Despite the concerns expressed by the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies, documents leaked to the Washington Post, indicated that President Obama is being urged by several agencies to support encryption and “strongly disavow” legislation that would force companies to unlock customer smartphones and apps when presented with a court order.
FBI Director James Comey argued in July against default device encryption during a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others in the intelligence and law enforcement communities have said encryption would hamper their ability to track down criminals and terrorists and thwart attacks and criminal acts. But tech pros have warned that limiting encryption would greatly impact the world's internet security and privacy.
Tech companies of late have drawn a harder line in the data privacy sand, rebuffing government attempts to gain access to customer records and adopting stronger encryption for communications. Apple recently told the Justice Department that iMessage encryption made it impossible to comply with a court order to turn over real time text messages between two suspects in a drug investigation this summer, according to a report in the New York Times.
The Washington Post reported that members of agencies charged with diplomacy, trade, technology and commerce have urged the White House to get behind encryption in an effort to underscore that the U.S. is not looking to broaden its surveillance domestically and internationally and is not willing to sacrifice security. The action would also serve to assuage international concerns that U.S. tech companies are being used to support U.S. surveillance goals.
But the report noted that the law enforcement and intelligence are not likely to take such a move by the White House lying down.
“The encryption issue . . . both in this country and abroad is going to have a major impact on how law enforcement and intelligence do their jobs,” the Post quoted a senior administration official as saying. “It's not surprising that they want to make sure that the public discourse includes a healthy debate about their issues as well.”