The FBI's War On Encryption Is Personal, According To Comey's New Book
from the fight-for-the-future dept
A recently-released Inspector General’s report shows the FBI didn’t try as hard as it could to find a way into the San Bernardino shooter’s locked iPhone. It appears FBI officials were more interested in obtaining a favorable court ruling than seeking technical assistance from anyone other than Apple, despite the DOJ’s courtroom claims about time being of the essence.
This had a lot to do with the current FBI leadership. James Comey made fighting encryption his personal crusade — one that has been carried forward by both the DOJ and the FBI’s new director, Christopher Wray. Comey’s new book about his government career — one that came to an unceremonious end when President Trump fired him — provides a few more details about his crusade against math and personal security.
A passage in Comey’s new book briefly discusses his initial reaction to the news smartphone manufacturers would be moving to default encryption. Comey claims the Snowden leaks prompted a worldwide shift to encrypted communications before moving on to Apple and Google.
In September 2014, after a year of watching our legal capabilities diminish, I saw Apple and Google announce that they would be moving their mobile devices to default encryption. They announced it in such a way as to suggest — at least to my ears — that making devices immune to judicial orders was an important social value. This drove me crazy. I just couldn’t understand how smart people could not see the social costs to stopping judges, in appropriate cases, from ordering access to electronic devices.
There’s more to it than this, but this is from Comey’s perspective. Part of the move to device encryption was due to pressure from legislators that phone companies “do more” to protect customers whose devices had been stolen. And some of it was probably backlash to the flow of Snowden leaks, showing the government had assembled a massive surveillance apparatus following the 9/11 attacks, turning tech companies into unwitting accomplices of the surveillance state.
As Comey sees it, the tech sector fails to comprehend the consequences of encrypted communications and devices because it only deals with the positive side of human connections.
The leaders of tech companies don’t see the darkness the FBI sees. Our days are dominated by the hunt for people planning terrorist attacks, hurting children, and engaging in organized crime. We see humankind at its most depraved, day in and day out…
I found it appalling that the tech types couldn’t see this. I would frequently joke with the FBI “Going Dark” team assigned to seek solutions, “Of course the Silicon Valley types don’t see the darkness — they live where it’s sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart.” Theirs was a world where technology made human connections and relationships stronger.
Conversely, the FBI views any communications it can’t see as suspect. It ignored solutions to engage in a courtroom battle over a phone that ultimately held nothing of interest. The FBI continues to push for a government solution to the problem — a mandate it can wield in every situation. Under Comey’s command, the FBI has shown it is unable to honestly hold an “adult” conversation about the issues. If officials like Comey feel tech companies are being deliberately obtuse, they cannot honestly argue the FBI isn’t acting the same way.