Ahead Of His Senate Hearing, James Comey Pushes His 'Going Dark' Theory
from the same-old-Comey,-same-bad-arguments dept
Ahead of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey released his planned testimony, which covers a variety of subjects Comey hoped to cover during the hearing. A lot of the talking points were touched on, but Comey spent most of his time fielding questions from pissed-off senators about how much they were disappointed in recent FBI investigations.
The testimony Comey planned to give contains another discussion of the FBI-centric “going dark” issue. According to Comey, device encryption has blocked FBI’s searches nearly 50% of the time, preventing it from pulling data from more than 3,000 phones. Comey also says other approaches — such as using metadata or cellphone forensic software — won’t work. They’re too expensive and won’t scale. Left unsaid is Comey’s desire for legislation or a few precedential court decisions to force manufacturers to compromise their customers’ security.
He makes this argument by conflating privacy and security and using this conflation to arrive at a completely wrong conclusion. From Comey’s testimony [PDF]:
Some observers have conceived of this challenge as a tradeoff between privacy and security. In our view, the demanding requirements to obtain legal authority to access data—such as by applying to a court for a warrant or a wiretap — necessarily already account for both privacy and security. The FBI is actively engaged with relevant stakeholders, including companies providing technological services, to educate them on the corrosive effects of the Going Dark challenge on both public safety and the rule of law. The FBI thanks the committee members for their engagement on this crucial issue.
Warrants and court orders cover the “privacy” end of the argument, but using court orders (or legislation) to force device makers to build backdoors in users’ devices throws security out the window. The balancing act in the encryption debate has never been “privacy vs. security.” It’s been “security vs. insecurity.” Comey’s false equation presents privacy and security as two sides to the same coin, yet somehow completely separable in the presence of a court order. Fourth Amendment protections cover the privacy end, but showing up at a device backdoor with a warrant in hand does nothing for anyone’s security.
Comey doesn’t want a balancing act, despite all his assertions about “adult conversations” and deferring to the “smart people” at tech companies. He wants device owners to sacrifice security in exchange for protections they’re already guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.