Encryption hampering law enforcement efforts, Comey

FBI Director James Comey said legal battles loom over whether government can compel tech companies to crack their devices.
FBI Director James Comey said legal battles loom over whether government can compel tech companies to crack their devices.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey reiterated Wednesday to reporters in Washington that encryption was hampering law enforcement's ability to investigate criminals and predicted more legal action in the future to resolve the ongoing debate over tech companies' obligation to comply with government requests to unlock iPhones and other products.

The Justice Department dropped its case against Apple in California after a third party was able to crack an iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI did not identify the vendor, though it is widely believed to be Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite. Another case before a federal court in Brooklyn was also abandoned after a third party provided a pass code that let authorities open the phone of a confessed drug dealer.

Comey took issue Wednesday in particular with WhatsApp's newly minted end-to-end encryption.

“WhatsApp has over a billion customers, overwhelmingly good people, but in that billion customers are terrorists and criminals, so that now-ubiquitous feature of all WhatsApp products will affect both sides of the house,” Comey said, according to a UPI report, calling encryption a "huge feature of terrorist tradecraft."

Comey's remarks came as Gen. Michael Hayden was telling a Centrify Connect audience in New York City that while he might assume Comey's well-known stance on encryption if he were in a similar position, he believed that the FBI director's “definition of security was not as broad as it needed to be.” Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, is an outspoken proponent of encryption, though he's quick to point out that he's “not arguing for Apple for privacy” but rather for the sake of security, which he said would be compromised if companies are forced to pull back the curtain on their products to give law enforcement a peek.

"You're not going to stop this [encryption] -- the best you could do is push it offshore," said Hayden, noting that would be more dangerous.

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