Courts & Crime

FBI chief seeks to shed light on dark technology

FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington. Comey gave a stark warning Thursday against smartphone data encryption, saying homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could go free and “justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive.”
FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington. Comey gave a stark warning Thursday against smartphone data encryption, saying homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could go free and “justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive.” AP

FBI Director James Comey on Thursday pressed harder for continued law enforcement access to the private information secured on high-tech tools.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, which drew an immediate retort from the American Civil Liberties Union, Comey warned that “those charged with protecting people aren’t always able to access the evidence we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism.”

“Technology has become the tool of choice for some very dangerous people,” Comey said. “Unfortunately, the law hasn’t kept pace with technology, and this disconnect has created a significant public safety problem.

Comey noted that “both real-time communication and stored data are increasingly encrypted,” citing in particular the latest hard-to-crack encryption programs announced by Google and Apple. He called for “assistance and cooperation from companies,” as well as a “regulatory or legislative fix” ensuring lawful law enforcement access.

The ACLU, among others, was not convinced.

“Any effort by the FBI to weaken encryption leaves our highly personal information and our business information vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments and criminals,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office. “We applaud tech leaders like Apple and Google that are unwilling to weaken security for everyone to allow the government yet another tool in its already vast surveillance arsenal.”

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