Apple and Google’s new move to encrypt smartphone data did not settle well in Washington. FBI Director James Comey said he was “Very Concerned” about the recent move by the Silicon Valley Tech giants that aims at denying the feds access to customer data.
“I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law,” Comey told reporters at FBI headquarters in Washington. “What concerns me about this, is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”
Similarly Google intends to encrypt its next generation Smartphones codenamed L by default. “As part of our next Android release, encryption will be enabled by default out of the box, so you won’t even have to think about turning it on,” said Google spokesman Niki Christoffs. In addition, Google launched an end-to- end encryption on its Gmail services that prevent the feds from snooping on users’ conversations.
The Fact that the FBI can’t access encrypted data even with a court warrant did not go well with James Comey, “I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smart phone,” he said. “The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order — to me does not make any sense.”
Comey said implementing the crypto policies by Google and Apple will have dire consequences in the future. “There will come a day — well it comes every day in this business — when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people of all kinds that we be able to with judicial authorization gain access to a kidnapper’s or a terrorist or a criminal’s device. I just want to make sure we have a good conversation in this country before that day comes. I’d hate to have people look at me and say, ‘Well how come you can’t save this kid,’ ‘how come you can’t do this thing.'”
Comey is not they only fed complaining about data encryption, Ronald T Hosko, a former head of FBI Criminal Investigation department labelled Apple’s new policy as “problematic” saying it will inhibit law enforcement agencies’ ability to gather evidence to solve and prevent crime. “The agency long has publicly worried about the “going dark” problem, in which the rising use of encryption across a range of services has undermined government’s ability to conduct surveillance, even when it is legally authorized,” he said.
The outcry for privacy in US was sparked by Edward Snowden’s revelation of massive spying on smartphones users by US National Security Agency. Comey said he understood the need for privacy, but is concerned tech companies are over overstretching the privacy requirements. “I get that the post-Snowden world has started an understandable pendulum swing,” he said. “What I’m worried about is, this is an indication to us as a country and as a people that, boy, maybe that pendulum swung too far.”
Hosko suggests only a huge event such a terrorist attack would swing back the pendulum or the intervention of Congress. “They could force the tech manufacturers to build that trapdoor, that back door, the golden key or face fines or shut them out of doing business,” he says.
Comey said the Agency is in discussions with Apple and Google about implementing their encryption policies, but security experts says it is unlikely that apple or google will bow down to pressure from the feds to create back door holes in their services.
Nate Freed Wessler of the American Civil Liberties Union thinks the security concerns raised by the Law enforcement agencies are unfounded. In her opinion there are still many avenues for tracking criminals. “The sky is not falling for law enforcement,” he says. “Police still have many avenues for investigation. What Apple did is give their customers control over sensitive data stored on their own devices.”
Elizabeth Goitein of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice also thinks data encryptions is the way to go. “What’s so interesting about the FBI’s position is this assumption that privacy is there only to protect people who have done something wrong and that it’s a tool for criminals,” she says. “There are many reasons why customers would want to have strong encryption for their data.” Encryption keeps off hackers in addition to protecting users “against government overreach and abuse, “she adds.
It is evident the ongoing privacy debate will rule the tech world for many days to come. While the FBI thinks the pendulum swung too far, many think the pendulum swung back to its right position.