White House Apparently Not Necessarily In Agreement With FBI's Position On Encryption Backdoors

from the say-something-dammit dept

There is a (reasonable) tendency to argue that in this big fight over encryption backdoors and “going dark” and “should Apple help the FBI” to assume that the various DOJ/FBI efforts to force backdoors into encryption are the official position of the Obama administration. After all, the Justice Department is a part of the administration and the head of the DOJ, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, reports to President Obama. And the FBI is a part of the DOJ. But it’s also been quite clear for some time that there are a variety of opinions within the White House on these issues, with many outside of the DOJ not supporting backdooring encryption at all. In fact, many are actively opposed to such ideas. And now it’s reaching the stage where people are starting to push stories that the White House is not at all happy with FBI Director James Comey and his crusade on this issue.

With regards to the Apple standoff, “It’s just not clear [Comey] is speaking for the administration,” said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism and cybersecurity chief. “We know there have been administration meetings on this for months. The proposal that Comey had made on encryption was rejected by the administration.”

[….]

“I have been very surprised at how public and inflammatory, frankly, the FBI and the Justice Department?s approach has been on this,” said Chris Finan, a former National Security Council cybersecurity adviser.

“That doesn’t tend to be the administration?s preferred approach to handling things.”

There are a lot more quotes in the article suggesting similar things (and also discussing FBI issues beyond just the Apple/encryption debate).

Indeed, back last fall, we noted that leaked documents showed that many in the White House did not agree with Comey or the FBI on this issue — and some pushed for a public statement opposing backdooring encryption. Unfortunately, the administration later took the cowardly approach of agreeing not to push for legislation, but refusing to take a strong public stance on the issue, because they didn’t want to anger the law enforcement community. So, instead, you have the DOJ and FBI — representatives of the administration — now running wild, pushing dangerous legal theories that will undermine key elements of computer security, and lots of people think that’s the administration’s official position.

The White House failed badly in not taking a public stance on this months ago, and it should fix that now.

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Comments on “White House Apparently Not Necessarily In Agreement With FBI's Position On Encryption Backdoors”

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15 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Telling silence

When it comes to more minor things, then I can understand standing on the side-lines and not wanting to get involved, but given how serious the fight over encryption is, and how wide-reaching the effects from it stand to be, silence really isn’t an option this time.

If those in the WH don’t agree with the anti-encryption stance various people and agencies in the government have taken, then they need to publicly make their disagreement heard, with no room for ‘mistakes’ or ‘interpretation’. Staying silent just makes it appear that while individual members of the administration may disagree with the anti-encryption stance, the majority do not, but don’t want to publicly admit it.

On this matter silence from the WH/administration is, and should be treated as, a show of support for those calling for undermining encryption.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Telling silence

On this matter silence from the WH/administration is, and should be treated as, a show of support for those calling for undermining encryption.

This is an election year. Silence in the matter is a show of support as T1G says. Coming out against the fervor gives the appearance of siding with Apple to the voters.

Groaker (profile) says:

re: Telling silence

Without even considering the issue involved, I have fired people for lying the way that Comey does.

And with consideration given to the Constitution destroying nature of Comey, I can only agree with @ThatOneGuy that silence is assent on an incredibly important issue. The President, and all those under him who speak to the press, have an obligation to make their position known. Failure to do so is rank cowardice.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Ru roh

About what could be expected.

I like this bit: “Obama said we’ll have to figure out “how do we have encryption as strong as possible, the key as secure as possible and accessible by the smallest pool of people possible, for a subset of issues that we agree is important.””

From my point of view, we figured this out a long time ago. I use very strong encryption, and the key is accessible to the smallest pool possible: me. Done and done.

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