FBI Chief James Comey Asks Companies to Stop Offering End-to-End Encryption

December 11, 2015

Following recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, encryption and privacy vs. public security has once again become the subject in DC.

Though there are no signs that the attackers even used encrypted messaging services to communicate (in fact they seem to have communicated with just plain old text messages)

In the wake of the tragic events in Paris last week encryption has continued to be a useful bogeyman for those with a voracious appetite for surveillance expansion. Like clockwork, numerous reports were quickly circulated suggesting that the terrorists used incredibly sophisticated encryption techniques, despite no evidence by investigators that this was the case. These reports varied in the amount of hallucination involved, the New York Times even having to pull one such report offline. Other claims the attackers had used encrypted Playstation 4 communications also wound up being bunk.

James Comey, director of FBI, suggested on a committee hearing on Wednesday that companies that provide users with end-to-end encryption should stop doing that -- to ensure public safety.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, FBI director James Comey went so far as to suggest that companies providing users with end-to-end encryption might need to simply, well, stop doing that.

Comey said, quoted from Vice News:

“It's not a technical issue, it's a business model question,” said Comey, referring to companies like Apple and WhatsApp which encrypt data so that it can't be read by any third party, including the companies themselves. “Lots of good people have designed their systems and their devices so that judges' orders can not be complied with, for reasons that I understand, I'm not questioning their motivations.”

“The question we have to ask is: should they change their business model?”

FBI's wishes to have backdoors for law enforcement to access private an encrypted data is problematic, as it can also make the end user vulnerable to hacking -- not to mention the violation of privacy. Experts have previously dismissed such backdoors as impossible from a technical standpoint.

“First Comey wanted backdoors into encryption. All the experts said 'you can't do that,' so now he's defaulting to a new position which is, 'Just don't do it. Don't deploy end-to-end encryption,'” said Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, in an interview with Motherboard.

“It's basically saying the US tech sector should abandon the most secure and the fastest-growing sector of the communications economy and leave it to foreign companies and service providers” to make end-to-end encryption apps, Bankston said. This would cause terrorists, criminals, and all the other bad guys the FBI is worried about to simply gravitate toward those foreign apps and services. “Meanwhile, Americans will be left less secure and the information economy will be hobbled.”

Read more at Vice Motherboard.

What is end-to-end encryption? Read more here

Image source, HackNY

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