FBI Director James Comey clarified during a Thursday Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing that the administration has decided not to “seek a legislative remedy” for the encryption predicament, The Washington Post reported. Essentially, Obama won't require companies to build backdoors into their products.
“As the president has said, the United States will work to ensure that malicious actors can be held to account — without weakening our commitment to strong encryption,” Mark Stroh, National Security Council spokesman, said in an interview with the newspaper. “As part of those efforts, we are actively engaged with private companies to ensure they understand the public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors' use of their encrypted products and services.”
A separate anonymous source told the newspaper that the Obama administration feels “optimistic” it will be able to work something out with private companies so they're able to provide data when subpoenaed or a search warrant is issued.
While privacy organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), take Obama's recent clarification as a “partial victory,” it also only represents a partial step forward. Of concern to them is the idea that government and tech groups could work together to hand over user data, unbeknownst to the users themselves.
Instead, the EFF wants to see Obama “create a clear policy position opposing secret and sometimes informal, agreements between the government and tech companies to undermine security and privacy.”
The privacy organization continued: “Internet users—both in the United States and abroad—deserve to trust their digital service providers, and this step would go a long way to amending the trust rift caused by years of privacy abuses by the NSA [National Security Agency].”
Even with this momentary policy decision, Comey stood by both his and the FBI's stance that encryption will hamper criminal and terrorism investigations.
During this same hearing, Comey said his agency had lost track of "dozens" of people after they switched over to encrypted communications.