Comey Seeks “Robust Debate” On Message Encryption, Terror Threats


FBI director James Comey is calling for a “robust debate” about the use of message encryption by technology firms. The Wall Street Journal says he warned that Islamic State militants and other terrorist groups could use this method to recruit “troubled Americans to kill people.” Comey's warnings in a post for the national security blog Lawfare came two days before he testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee amid concerns from tech firms. In June, a coalition wrote to President Obama to voice concern about any new policy that would allow the government to weaken the security of encrypted text messages or emails. “We appreciate that, where appropriate, law enforcement has the legitimate need for certain information to combat crime and threats,” said the June 8 letter from trade groups that include Apple Inc. and Google Inc. “However, mandating the weakening of encryption or encryption 'work-arounds' is not the way to address this need.”

Comey is “worried we are talking past each other with respect to 'going dark,' ” referring to the idea that communications could be orchestrated in a way that makes them completely inaccessible to law enforcement. “Universal strong encryption will protect all of us—our innovation, our private thoughts, and so many other things of value—from thieves of all kinds,” he wrote. “We will all have lock-boxes in our lives that only we can open and in which we can store all that is valuable to us. There are lots of good things about this.” He added that could mean law enforcement would be unable to track the communications of terrorist recruiters. “There is simply no doubt that bad people can communicate with impunity in a world of universal strong encryption,” he wrote.

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