James Comey Offers Up Half-Assed Apology For Being Such An Asshole About Encryption
from the still-mostly-an-asshole dept
Former FBI director James Comey’s move to the private sector has been… well… annoying, if we’re honest. After being booted by President Trump for allegedly failing to pledge his fealty to the Oval Office throne, Comey has become a hero of the so-called Resistance. Those lionizing Comey as some sort of truth-to-power speaker seem to have forgotten he ignored everything ever about pre-election propriety to announce his reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and his years spent trying to undermine encryption.
You can take a man out of the FBI, but you can’t take the g-man out of the man. Comey may be as unimpressed as many of us are with the current White House leadership, but that only makes him somewhat relatable, not some hero molded from the fires of the long tradition of reshuffling agency leadership with every peaceful transfer of power.
Comey will speak to whoever will listen and/or publish his thoughts. He recently spoke at a conference and offered up his limited apologies for the War on Encryption he waged following the San Bernardino shooting.
As apologies go, it isn’t one. Comey says the only error he made was being a bit too aggressive when seeking to undermine the security of millions of device users. (h/t Riana Pfefferkorn)
Comey said it was “dumb” to launch the encryption debate by loudly criticizing companies for seeking encryption that would prevent law enforcement access even with a warrant. “I would do that differently if I had the chance,” he said at a conference hosted by the Hewlett Foundation last week.
Beyond that, Comey wouldn’t have changed much. And his stance is still firmly anti-encryption. Sure, it sounds like he thinks encryption is important, but the only version he’d be willing to live with if he were still running the FBI would be a version no one would trust.
Comey says, “you could build a key that sits with the U.S. government, a key that sits with the maker of that device and a key that sits with a non governmental agency” and a judge could order these keys to be combined to grant access to the data. He argued such a model could still be built despite widespread criticism from technologists who think such a solution would be impossible or insecure.
This proves Comey still unwilling to be the adult in the room, even as he repeated his assertion that it’s all he really wants: an “adult conversation.” Plenty of adults have spoken, contradicting Comey’s fervent, but unfounded, beliefs that compromised encryption is still secure encryption.
Comey says it’s time for the U.S. to have an “adult conversation” about what’s at stake as more and more devices and services are encrypted. He warns that “broad swaths” of American life are now occurring out of the reach of law enforcement, and he’s worried that the public isn’t talking enough about the implications that could have for society.
Whatever. As far as I can tell, law enforcement is doing just fine. The stuff that’s encrypted doesn’t appear to be much of a problem. The FBI is having no problem radicalizing troubled youths into DOJ prosecution fodder. The ATF is still running stash house stings, turning poor people into federal inmates for thinking about robbing a fake drug stash house of its nonexistent drugs. The DEA is still spending a great deal of time looking for cash, rather than drugs. And local law enforcement is doing the same thing, concentrating on asset forfeiture, SWAT team raids, and talking people into having sex with officers pretending to be 14-year-old girls. Not really seeing the problem encryption poses for the law enforcement in any of these endeavors.
Comey isn’t here to speak truth to power or expound on the virtues of the rule of law. He isn’t even truly apologetic for his heavy-handed anti-encryption rhetoric over the past few years. He wants people to believe he’s a paragon of virtue, thanks to his unceremonious ouster. But he’s still the same guy who used to run the FBI and he still has the same goals. Getting fired hasn’t made him a better person and it sure as shit hasn’t made him a hero.