FBI Director Says Congress Will Fix Phone Encryption 'Problem;' Congress Says 'Bite Us'

from the Bureau-cordially-invited-to-go-fuck-itself dept

James Comey’s pleas that something must be done for the [potentially-molested] children of the United States seem to be falling on mostly deaf ears. Mostly. After realizing that there’s nothing in current laws that compels Google and Apple to punch law enforcement-sized holes in their default encryption, Comey has decided to be the change he wishes to force in others.

Having set the stage with a Greek chorus comprised of law enforcement officials chanting “iPhones are for pedophiles,” Comey is now making overtures to legislators, targeting an already-suspect law for further rewriting: CALEA, or the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. As it stands now, the law specifically does NOT require service providers to decrypt data or even provide law enforcement with the means for decryption. Up until this point, the FBI’s director seemed to consider Congressional support a foregone conclusion.

Last week, FBI director James Comey suggested that encryption “threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place” and suggested that if Apple and Google don’t remove default encryption from iOS and Android then “Congress might have to force this on companies.”

Now, Congress members are firing back at Comey, reminding him that Congress doesn’t have to do shit.

“To FBI Director Comey and the Admin on criticisms of legitimate businesses using encryption: you reap what you sow,” California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa tweeted. “The FBI and Justice Department must be more accountable—tough sell for them to now ask the American people for more surveillance power.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren estimates Comey’s legislative “fix” has a “zero percent” chance of passing. This tepid statement is the warmest response Comey’s received so far.

“It’s going to be a tough fight for sure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the Patriot Act’s original author, told The Hill in a statement.

Of course, in this anti-surveillance climate, there aren’t too many representatives willing to openly support toxic rewrites like the one Comey desires. But give it a few more years and anything’s possible. This is the time to start watching upcoming bills closely. It’s not completely unheard of for unpopular legislation to be tacked onto other bills whose popularity (or complete mundanity) gives them a higher chance of passing.

Comey also still seems to think that it’s simply a matter of wording. He’s done all he can to portray the encrypted future as a nightmarish world where child abusers, drug dealers and terrorists run amok while law enforcement fumbles around in the dark. This clumsy propaganda machine has done little to soften up the public or its representatives. Now, he’s shifting gears, pretending that it’s not a “backdoor” he’s seeking, but rather some sort of magical doggie door for law enforcement.

“We want to use the front door with clarity and transparency,” he said.

How that word picture converts to real life remains to be seen. Comey doesn’t seem to have any idea but believes the answer runs through an amended CALEA. The good news is that no one’s in any hurry to help him out. The FBI (and much of law enforcement) is so used to getting what they want (as well as being completely absent when it’s time to reap what’s been sown) with minimal resistance that this pushback has forced them to think on their feet — something they’re clearly not comfortable doing. Between talk of “golden keys” and the hilarious assumption that Congress would simply do as it’s told, the FBI’s anti-encryption fit-pitching is looking more ridiculous by the moment.

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Comments on “FBI Director Says Congress Will Fix Phone Encryption 'Problem;' Congress Says 'Bite Us'”

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FM Hilton (profile) says:

Time passes

We can only hope and pray that when we elect the next president, that Comey will be ‘invited’ to step down, due to the past few years worth of revelations about the FBI’s assistance in enabling spying.

Even if the Republicans control Congress. He’s not very well liked by either party.

They might have confirmed him, but only because he was the only one who would take the job.

AC says:

Terminology lesson for law enforcement:

Front Door: This is what I use. It’s the PIN on my phone, or the password on my computer. I’m not giving you my PIN, so you will need a Golden Key, see below.

Golden Key: If this Golden Key is to be used on the Front Door, then you are still using the front door. Which is only possible using my PIN. Which you can’t have. See above. If it’s used on the Back Door, see below.

Back Door: This is the only way to get in without my PIN, and is what criminals use. It is a hole in my security. If I wanted to let people in, they would come in through the Front Door. If it is possible for one person to get in the Back Door without my permission, then it will be possible for ANYBODY to get in without my permission.

In summary: If you aren’t me, and you don’t have permission, you must therefore be a criminal.

Anonymous Coward says:

“We want to use the front door with clarity and transparency,” he said.

Anyone who uses my front either rings the doorbell ,knocks but most certainly calls ahead to make sure I’m there , Then it’s up to me to let them in ,If they choose to force entry they may be shot beaten and on a slab. encryption is equal to my right to bear arms.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dog and Pony shows.

For surveillance to work- people have to believe they’re devices are private. This hoopla is not about some struggle against law enforcement access to encryption- it’s a distraction meant to lull people into false security. So long as devices have baseband coprocessors with access to main system ram- there’s no need to ‘break’ encryption- the keys are available for the taking. There’s your front door, and it’s a safe bet they already have access- by stingray if not by direct access through the phone company. All this BS is just about convincing people they don’t have access.

“please, anything but the briar patch!” -briar rabbit.

In regard to user absolute freedom/control, modern tech has a metaphorical terminal cancer, yet even otherwise competent news sources seam dead set on ignoring this and instead focusing on the threat of other phantom issues and distractions, symptoms. Perhaps that’s by design as well- I’d like to hear techdirt categorically deny any NSL or other gov involvement limiting their speech/reporting.

AJ says:

Re: Dog and Pony shows.

“or surveillance to work- people have to believe they’re devices are private.”

No one will ever believe that their phone is 100% secure, not anymore. That ship’s sailed. This is damage control by Apple and Google nothing more.

Think about it… If this really were to shut down the mass surveillance, the secret court would have had a secret hearing with secret evidence being argued on both sides by the same secret lawyer in front of a secret Judge who later would have secretly concluded that Apple and Google would be making a statement in the very near future, probably after the election, that would basically state that because of some technical issue or another… encryption wasn’t going to be possible after all… sigh…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: No trust.

If a company abuses their customer’s trust enough, then that customer can, and potentially will, go elsewhere, so a company has reason to at least pretend to care about the rights and privacy of their customers.

If the government abuses the trust of those below them on the other hand, you can’t exactly ‘switch governments’*, so people are stuck with what they’ve got. As such, the government doesn’t have that ‘They could go elsewhere, so we need to behave’ threat hanging over their head.

*To those who would say ‘Yes you can, just vote out the current people, and vote in better ones to replace them!’, when the system itself is corrupt, that’s not really going to do much.

Dirkmaster (profile) says:

I have this wonderful fantasy

Where we tell Comey and his cronies “Sure, we’ll just give you every key to everything you want. You promise not to misuse it and not let it out, right? So, as a guarantee of that, you won’t mind also giving us all your birth day and social security numbers. We’ll encrypt them with that key, and put them right over here on PasteBin. No worries that the key will be leaked out and someone will get to that info, right?”

Put up or shut up, assclown.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Let's Remember the Anthrax

There is reason to suspect that the FBI played a part in the Anthrax Attacks, back in 2001. Certain elements in Congress were stalling over the passage of the USA Patriot Act, which was simply the FBI’s perennial wish-list. So these delaying elements began receiving, ah, bouquets, of anthrax, and the bill was rapidly passed. In the following months, it gradually became apparent that the anthrax had come from the United States Government, and yet, no one drew the obvious inference. Unable to deny that the anthrax had come from the the United States Army laboratories at Ft. Detrick, the government went to great, and even extraordinary, lengths to frame a man named Steven Hatfill. Hatfill was more of a “policy wonk” than a working scientist, and attempts to incriminate him tended to founder on his lack of opportunity to gain access to the right kind of anthrax. Retroactively, it became apparent that the framing of Hatfill was done to protect Bruce Ivins. Ivins does not seem to have had any kind of political connections of a sort likely to involve him in a armed attack on Congress, yet the evidence of his having provided the anthrax in question is overwhelming. Ivins eventually went more or less insane, doubtless due to guilt at what he had done, and committed suicide when the investigation eventually swung back in his direction.

Some years ago, a man named Ed Lake formulated the hypothesis that there were two parties, the “Supplier” (a government scientist with inside access, who provided the anthrax), and the “Agent,” someone outside the government research establishment, who received the anthrax and used it. Ivins was the supplier, it seems. The Supplier-Agent hypothesis explains why Ivins became involved in drastic political terrorist actions which were out of character for him. Forget the FBI’s silly suggestions about a persecution complex directed at a college sorority. Ivins handed over the anthrax, because someone gave him the right order, and probably did not tell him what was going to be done with the anthrax. The FBI is a prime suspect for having provided the Agent. It was very convenient for the FBI that Ivins committed suicide. He might otherwise have made a full confession in court, and named the agent. Ivins was a tormented man whom the government had tricked, Ender-Wiggins-fashion, into being a mass-murderer.

Now, key portions of the USA Patriot Act are being nullified by advances in technology, notably in encryption and address cloaking. “The murderers among us” are being forced out into the open to defend their ill-gotten gains.

James Comey, himself, was a senior official in the Bush Administration’s Justice Department at the time that much of the anthrax investigation was taking place. He is not obviously unimplicated. At present, he is probably “carrying water” for FBI insiders who committed various crimes in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. He must be made to testify before Congress about what he knew, and when he knew it.


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