FBI Director James Comey isn’t backing down from his position that Apple and Google are wrong to encrypt customer smartphone data preventing law enforcement agencies the possibility of access if requested. After last month sharing that the FBI was in talks with the two companies to discuss concerns with marketing devices as being inaccessible to third-parties including the government, the FBI Director spoke with CBS News in an interview where he continued to make the case against such encryption…
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In the interview, Comey repeated past remarks smartphone encryption is being used as a marketing tool that puts people “beyond the law”:
The notion that we would market devices that would allow someone to place themselves beyond the law, troubles me a lot. As a country, I don’t know why we would want to put people beyond the law.
As we’ve mentioned before, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said the company couldn’t provide iPhone data to the government even with a subpoena. “It’s encrypted and we don’t have the key,” Cook explained. FBI Director Comey likened smartphone encryption to selling vehicles and houses that law enforcement couldn’t access.
That is, sell cars with trunks that couldn’t ever be opened by law enforcement with a court order, or sell an apartment that could never be entered even by law enforcement. Would you want to live in that neighborhood? This is a similar concern.
While both Apple and Google are each using operating system encryption as a privacy tool to allow customers to feel safer with carrying sensitive data, the FBI Director described instances of terrorism and kidnapping when law enforcement would benefit from accessing a lock smartphone.
The notion that people have devices, again, that with court orders, based on a showing of probable cause in a case involving kidnapping or child exploitation or terrorism, we could never open that phone? My sense is that we’ve gone too far when we’ve gone there.
Comey isn’t the only government official publicly lobbying Apple and Google to reconsider smartphone encryption. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month expressed a similar position saying “It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy.”
You can view the CBS News interview with FBI Director James Comey above (the Apple and Google remarks come in shortly after the 7 minute mark).