Comey's argument

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James Comey said in his Brookings speech that "We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications from information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so." Comey's worries, described as "Law enforcement officials could still intercept conversations but might not be able to access call data, contacts, photos and email stored on the phone" by TPM, are entirely appropriate--not every bit of potentially useful data has even been available to law enforcement, but that point is elided by our surveillance state mentality:

Comey also said the FBI was committed to a "front-door" approach, through court orders and under strict oversight, to intercepting communications. Privacy advocates have long been concerned that that development would create an opening for hackers to exploit. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that federal law protects the right of companies to add encryption with no backdoors and said the companies should be credited for being "unwilling to weaken security for everyone."

"Whether you call it a 'front door' or a 'back door,' weakening the security of a system to enable law enforcement access also opens that door to foreign governments and criminals," said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

The Intercept called Comey's argument "pathetic," and wrote that "To make his case, he cited four real-life examples -- examples that would be laughable if they weren't so tragic:"

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor. [...]

Facing the huge preponderance of evidence that encryption makes us safer, not less safe, Comey realizes he needs some solid evidence to support his side of the argument. But there's a reason he hasn't found it yet.

CDT goes on to argue that "The core tension of this debate is balancing the need for greater government access with our country's long tradition of individual autonomy and privacy:"

When the government calls for reduced security on smartphones, or worse yet, seeks technological backdoors into our devices, we are being asked to expose our personal data to criminals. Any backdoor the government can walk through to uncover evidence will eventually be used by malicious actors to exploit our personal information. [...]

In the end, we are far more secure, individually and as a country, if we are empowered to control the security and privacy of our own information. As we store more and more personal data in our smartphones, we must be given the ability to protect it from sophisticated hackers and criminals. The government vision of national security where only the good guys exploit weak security is not realistic, nor is it globally scalable. We should applaud the companies that take concrete steps to enhance the security of our personal information and encourage more companies to be equally bold.

Judith Miller writes in City Journal:

Without lawful government access to cell phones and Internet devices, Comey warned, "homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could walk free, and child exploitation victims might not be identified or recovered. [...] "Justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive."

Comey repeated his warning that sales of such technology would create what he called a "black hole" for enforcement, depriving investigators of the forensic data needed to solve crimes.

But technology experts have argued that strong default encryption is needed to protect users from unwanted violation of their private data by governments and hackers alike.

EFF notes that "the FBI is trying to convince the world that some fantasy version of security is possible--where 'good guys' can have a back door or extra key to your home but bad guys could never use it:"

Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of security can tell you that's just not true. So the "debate" Comey calls for is phony, and we suspect he knows it. Instead, Comey wants everybody to have weak security, so that when the FBI decides somebody is a "bad guy," it has no problem collecting personal data.

But if the FBI gets its way and convinces Congress to change the law, or even if it convinces companies like Apple that make our tools and hold our data to weaken the security they offer to us, we'll all end up less secure and enjoying less privacy. Or as the Fourth Amendment puts it: we'll be be less "secure in our papers and effects."

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 17, 2014 8:54 PM.

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