The FBI wants technology firms to do help it monitor people
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October 17, 2014
FBI director James Comey is continuing his offensive against phone encryption by urging big technology companies to do more to help it monitor people.
In a speech to the Brookings Institute, Comey said the decision by Apple and Google to turn on file encryption by default in iOS and Android was seriously hampering the efforts of police and investigators everywhere to protect the public at large.
Comey complained that criminals were going dark, and that technology companies should be compelled to build gadgets that can be easily accessed where and whenever the FBI needs them.
He reminisced about the good old days of law enforcement, where a court order could allow the agency to tap into any phone in America. Nowadays that's not always possible, he said, and something had to be done.
"There is a gross misconception that building a lawful intercept solution into a system requires a so-called 'back door,' one that foreign adversaries and hackers may try to exploit," he said.
"But that isn't true. We aren't seeking a back-door approach. We want to use the front door, with clarity and transparency, and with clear guidance provided by the law. We are completely comfortable with court orders and legal process-- front doors that provide the evidence and information we need to investigate crime and prevent terrorist attacks," he added.
Such a system should be designed and integrated into new devices in the engineering stage, Comey said, and all wireless carriers and technology firms should work towards that goal.
He didn't mention how it was going to be possible to avoid hackers using the same backdoors to hijack victims' phones and tablets, but presumably he thinks that's not his problem...
Comey said the existing U.S. Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act needs to be updated to enforce this. Earlier in his speech, he noted that not all companies were complying with CALEA – which requires manufacturers to build security holes into devices for Uncle Sam to exploit to intercept communications.
Specifically, he accused Apple and Google of seeking a market opportunity by making file encryption the default on their devices. But he also claimed doing so put their users "above the law."
Last week, Silicon Valley chiefs were saying quite the opposite at a roundtable in California. Google chairman Eric Schmidt said such features were not to gain new sales, but to stop the collapse of existing markets as users wanted privacy and weren't prepared to buy technology without it.
Earlier this month, security professional Bruce Schneier also burst one of Comey's much ballyhooed concerns, that of encryption foiling child kidnapping investigations.
He pointed out that of the 3,576 warrants that were granted for communications interception in 2013, one involved kidnapping. In the same year, police reported being stumped by encryption nine times, and four times in 2012.
Comey added that unless such front-door access was granted to the Feds then homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could walk free, and child exploitation might not be discovered or prosecuted.
He also warned that terrorists could use social media to "recruit, plan, and execute an attack."
"I've never been someone who is a scaremonger. But I'm in a dangerous business. So I want to ensure that when we discuss limiting the court-authorized law enforcement tools we use to investigate suspected criminals that we understand what society gains and what we all stand to lose," he said.
"We in the FBI will continue to throw every lawful tool we have at this issue, but it's very costly. It's also inefficient. And it takes a lot of time. We need to fix this problem. It is long past due."
Source: The U.S. Bureau of Investigation.
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