James Comey Claims He Wants An 'Adult Conversation' About Encryption; Apparently 'Adults' Ignore Experts

from the the-child-is-you dept

Oh, James Comey. The FBI Director seems to have staked out his reputation on being the guy who will go to his grave refusing to understand what basically every technology expert has been telling him for the past couple of years: his desire to backdoor encryption will make everyone less safe. But Comey is pot committed on his belief that encryption is bad and that Silicon Valley just needs to nerd harder and it’ll somehow come up with encryption that has a magic golden key for him. His latest is saying that it’s time for an “adult conversation” on encryption:

“The conversation we’ve been trying to have about this has dipped below public consciousness now, and that’s fine,” Comey said at a symposium organized by Symantec, a technology company. “Because what we want to do is collect information this year so that next year we can have an adult conversation in this country.”

This is not just insulting, but counterproductive. Plenty of experts have been trying their damnedest to have an “adult conversation” with Comey, explaining to him why he’s wrong about the risks of “going dark,” while others have — in fairly great detail — explained the serious dangers behind Comey’s approach.

Comey’s response to these efforts so far has been the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming “nah, nah, nah — can’t hear you!” while repeating his “nerd harder” mantra.

An “adult conversation” has to be one where someone in Comey’s position is able to admit that maybe, just maybe, he’s wrong. It’s not one where he gets to keep demanding a new conversation until people tell him that night is day. Because that’s just silly.

This new claim about an “adult conversation” is also stupidly counterproductive. All it’s going to do is make the actual experts here — like the authors of that MIT paper on the dangers of backdoor — dig in and have absolutely no interest in dealing with Comey. How could you when he so flippantly brushes off all the work they’ve done already?

If we’re going to have an adult conversation, it needs to at least start with a recognition that maybe Comey overreacted here. Without that, it’s just Comey acting like a child, demanding that everyone do things his way over and over and over and over again.

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Comments on “James Comey Claims He Wants An 'Adult Conversation' About Encryption; Apparently 'Adults' Ignore Experts”

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art guerrilla (profile) says:

c'mon now, you know better...

whenever we get to these types of issues where it APPEARS the powers that be dont know WTF they are talking about, or are being recondite about the tradeoffs they are proposing, DO NOT be fooled: they are not stoopid, they are not ignorant of the consquences of whatever little piece of eee-vil they are espousing, they know EXACTLY what the eee-vil consequences are, and that is EXACTLY why they are being proposed, they are not unintended consequences, they are eee-vil because that is what they want…
this shit does not happen by mistake, or because they simply didnt realize the results would be bad, it happens because that is what they want…

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You seem to be implying that his agenda is not the President’s. I think it absolutely is. Obama’s made noises to the effect of “we can make encryption that only the Good Guys can break; you just need to nerd harder” before. So has Clinton; so has Trump; so has McCain; and on and on. It’s a position that’s shared by a lot of politicians, across the political spectrum.

Anonymous Coward says:

The important thing to remember that the “going dark” is actually just “returning to the way things were before we broke laws or got nefarious laws passed that let us snoop through all your shit in violation of the Constitution.”

I bet your nosy neighbor with the binoculars calls it “going dark” when you close your blinds and tell her to stop going through your garbage. You can’t have an adult conversation with a person who isn’t acting like an adult.

Anonymous Coward says:

Typical Rubbish...

If people are not saying what you want to hear, you call them…

Childish, Alarmist, Racist, Xenophobic, Idiot, Retard, Ignorant, and HITLER!!!…

During the attempt to silence them.

Of course people usually mistake the problem as being the ad hominem attacks as the example of when someone is losing their argument and this is a common fallacy… it is the attempt to shut a persons speech down entirely that marks the point where you are losing the argument. You can be 100% correct regardless of the presence of ad hominem attacks.

So that is right folks, even a nice guy can be wrong wrong wrong!

Adam (profile) says:


Comey is doing the equivalent of the latest street “justice” movements. He doesn’t care what is right or wrong, he just wants “justice” which means an outcome he wants, not the outcome that’s right.

He’s trying do rail the public like I used to do my old boss. I’d give him the answer to his conundrum and if he disagreed we’d just discuss until he said what I started with and then I’d agree with him. Once the “nerds” start saying it’s possible, he’ll agree and we’ll get screwed.

The difference is I was usually right when I told my boss something; Comey is so far off that his computer password is probably 12345. To quote Spaceballs: “So the combination is… one, two, three, four, five? That’s the stupidest combination I’ve ever heard in my life! That’s the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!”

techno says:

Re: Justice!

Wait…are you seriously equating BLM and government snooping? Are you seriously this dense? One is a populist movement opposed by white power activists and neo nazis and the other a a government policy opposed by every reputable expert in the field. They are apples and oranges even if you disagree with BLM and it shows a HUGE gap in your empathy, knowledge of history, and a vast amount of naïveté on your part.

Anonymous Coward says:

We're done here

All it’s going to do is make the actual experts here — like the authors of that MIT paper on the dangers of backdoor — dig in and have absolutely no interest in dealing with Comey. How could you when he so flippantly brushes off all the work they’ve done already?

Exactly. I’ve tried, repeatedly, to be reasonable about this, but Comey clearly wishes to ignore facts, logic, reason, history, mathematics, security, privacy, experts — anything and everything that conflicts with his ridiculous and discredited opinions.

It’s like dealing with a flat-earther or a vaxxer or a global warming denier: these are inferior people equipped with inferior minds and they simply can’t be reasoned with.

So it’s time to just insult, belittle, and ignore him, as it amuses to do so. There’s really nothing productive to be done.

mcinsand (profile) says:

what he means by 'adults'

Comey wants people that meet the following requirements:

1) Above 21 years of age.
2) Zero knowledge about software.
3) Zero knowledge of security.
4) Zero awareness of how a computer works beyond the keyboard, mouse, and power switch.
5) (optional but preferred) post-lobotomy

Anyone failing to meet any of criteria would understand that encryption helps far more average citizens than n’er -do-wells. If Comey actually any incremental understanding of computers, software, or security, he would be screaming about punishing companies that do not promote encryption and citizens that fail to encrypt. If Comey had the ability to understand, at all, then he would understand that protecting our nation would mean pushing for the broadest possible use of secure (and non-backdoored) encryption. If Comey had any commitment to his duties to protect our nation from harm, then he would be screaming for stronger encryption instead of ways to weaken it…at least, that would be true in a world where he understood the topic.

Ben (profile) says:

So, up until now it has been a childish conversation?

If he’s looking to have an “adult” conversation (and not the prurient kind! get your minds out of the gutter!) then the conversations he’s been having have been non-adult, i.e. childish, conversations.

In order to be an “adult” conversation, both sides need to behave like adults. I’m pretty certain the tech side of the conversation been maintained by adults — critical thinking, cost/benefit analysis, etc. So that leads me to wonder why Comey should now be considered an “adult” for purposes of the intended conversation.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Adult' in this context meaning 'Agreeing with me'

It’s amazing how he can manage to get through doorways with that swollen head of his.

It’s pretty obvious that he has no interest in any opinion that differs from his own, no interest in evidence that contradicts his opinion because obviously he’s already in possession of all the information he needs, and that by ‘adult’ conversation he means one that agrees with the stance he already has.

He’s dug too deep now to admit just how horrifically wrong he is, his ego just won’t allow it, so expect even more of this ‘You’re wrong, I’m right, and if you were smarter or more mature you’d understand that. Now go play while the adults talk’ as time passes.

Wyrm (profile) says:


Comey engages in the fallacy of “false middle ground”.

He pretends that between his view that we can safely break encryption for “good guys only” and experts’ view that “backdoors will break computer security”, there must be a middle ground somewhere, and pretending otherwise is childish.
He then pretends that he’s ready to compromise on his view, provided the experts also compromise with theirs.

There are two techniques there:
– the middle ground is a fallacy in itself. It’s not a case where the two sides of the argument have equivalent value, so it’s not “adult” to compromise here when reality doesn’t compromise. Encryption is either reasonably secure (no backdoor, though there can be flaws that we try to close as best as possible) or basically useless (with backdoor that “bad guys” would eventually find and exploit as much as “good guys” would from the start).
– the other – implicit – lie is that he will compromise on anything. His strategy is basically to make people accept that his view is as valid as the experts’, force a discussion about a “compromise”, then make people accept his opinion fully when the “compromise” turns out to be impossible. (see previous point) At that point, people will already debate on the assumption that his view is valid, and he will probably use connections and arguments of authority to settle things in his favor.

In a way, he’s right. He wants to settle things the “adult” way: using fallacies, forcing his views on others, manipulating the system. Basic politics. Very adult.
That’s not reasonable, but it’s definitely the way adults settle things.

David says:

You flipping don't understand Comey at all.

The FBI Director seems to have staked out his reputation on being the guy who will go to his grave refusing to understand what basically every technology expert has been telling him for the past couple of years: his desire to backdoor encryption will make everyone less safe.

You don’t get it, do you? Comey is just doing his job, and his job is “to make everyone more safe” just as much as it is a bank’s job “to make everyone more rich”. That’s just fairy-tale nonsense. Comey’s job is routing as much of everyone’s safety through his agency’s hands as possible, just like a bank tries routing as much of everyone’s money through its hand. That gives unilateral power to the nation paying the NSA. The NSA is not there for the universal good, or its funding would look more like that of the UN.

Of course, while moving communications or money around, a healthy administrative fee is taken. Backdoorless public key encryption, a means to provide safe communications outside of the NSA’s control, is about as attractive to the NSA and Comey as Bitcoin as a means to move money around is for banks.

Comey is not paid for making everyone safer. He and the entire NSA is paid for making U.S. citizens safer than others. To achieve this differentiation, he needs tools and control that safe encryption is incompatible with.

Once he serves the world as well as the U.S., the U.S. has no reason to write him a paycheck.

So what if he makes everyone less safe as long as the toll (in safety, not money) on the U.S. citizens is less than on everybody else? He is paid to let the U.S. come out ahead. And if that means shooting its feet, as long as more bullets hit others that mission is accomplished.

Norahc (profile) says:

Third Party Doctrine

Would we even be having this discussion if it wasn’t for the Third Party Doctrine? After all what he claims he wants is the ability to serve a court order on a third party to order them to decrypt info. All so law enforcement won’t have to serve the court order on the guilty…I mean suspect…I mean subject of their investigation which would trigger Constitutional protections.

Seems like this is all about making the Constitution less of an impediment to the government. Maybe it’s about time we got rid of the Third Party Doctrine, which try as I might, I can’t find anywhere in the Constitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

I propose a challenge...

If Comey can give us one! – just ONE single expert who is willing to tell us that he has got the solution then we can all have a serious sitdown… where we will very likely point out the 1000’s of ways that experts “solution” will not work.
This is not about not wanting to do anything about a problem, this is about such an unsolvable problem that there isn’t even a serious proposal on the table on how this could be done simply because some of the worlds most powerful organizations can’t find a single knowledgeable person to agree with them.
Don’t think that experts who found this solution wouldn’t come forward because that would be one mighty achievement on par with proving that god exists.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Adult Conversation

When I was a kid, I was told to be silent while the adults talked. This was a RULE: children were to be seen and not heard

So when he says “adult conversation” he means all the kids (which includes experts, naughty little back-talkers that they are) shall shut up and let him talk…

…because he is the only adult in the room. “Or else!”

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I am unable to figure out this typo.

It’s not a typo, just a reference to something there is no particular reason this audience should be familiar with.


It refers basically to a point of no return, beyond which one must continue through to the end rather than retreating.

bshock says:

Listen to the code words

In politics, “Adult Conversation” is a well-known code phrase for “We’ve got more guns than you do, so you’re going to do what we say without any backtalk.”

Because adults are mature enough to realize with quiet resignation that it’s difficult to enjoy even the illusion of a free society after you’ve been brutally murdered by an massively powerful government.

Anonymous Coward says:

How about he try this suggestion?

Since he’s so concerned about going dark, how about the FBI, NSA, etc. all turn on their own lights. They should all put backdoors into their own encryption and give the golden key to the public so we can see what they are doing. Show us just how good this backdoor stuff really is and how it can be done right. After all, if they’re not doing anything wrong, they have nothing to hide from us right? Right?

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