Cybersecurity

FBI Director James Comey is Upset About Smartphone Encryption? Tough.

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James Comey
FBI

"What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law," FBI Director James Comey whined to reporters gathered at FBI headquarters. His comments came in response to announcements from Apple and Google that the latest generation of mobile device operating systems will not just ease the use of encryption on the devices, but make it automatic. What has been an opt-in option until now will become default security for users that, at least theoretically, puts private information beyond the reach of snoops, device manufacturers—and law enforcement. (Note this guide to why you should be careful in how you implement encryption to minimize holes in your defenses.)

FBI bureaucrats may be upset, but the rest of us have good reason to cheer the tech companies' moves. That's because Comey and his cronies here in the U.S. and around the world have made it thoroughly clear over the years that governments are among the more dangerous threats to people's privacy.

Comey and other law enforcement officials invoke the specter of enabled criminals in this brave new world of stronger privacy protections that scoff at warrants. "Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile," John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago's police department, told the Washington Post.

Smartphones
Scott Beale/Foter

Maybe. But Apple and Android phones will likely become must-haves for journalists, too, after revelations about spying by the Department of Justice on the Associated Press, Fox's James Rosen, and other journalists. The current president is "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation," the New York Times' James Risen noted earlier this year. But there's no reason to think the next administration or the one after that will be any more respectful of privacy or press freedom.

It's also rich for Comey to complain about companies responding to greater public demand—in the United States and abroad—after a tidal wave of revelations about NSA surveillance on private communications. He may want to hold himself and his agency apart from the abuses of the national securty snoops, but the FBI continues to target the press with national security letters.

And most of us don't differentiate among government alphabet soup agencies, anyway. We know they share information back and forth, across jurisdictions and national borders. They're all a threat to our privacy and liberty. Comey complains that eased encryption will "allow people to hold themselves beyond the law," which is the whole damned idea. He and his counterparts give the public repeated reason to view the law and its enforcers as enemies.

And by the way, Apple and Google aren't preventing courts from issuing warrants, they're just returning the onus of compliance to the data owner where it belongs.

Does encryption offer potential benefits to actual criminals? Sure. But it also helps protect the general public against officials and agencies we have no reason to trust.

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  1. As someone noted this morning, I believe we have no choice but to act as if the Apple and Google announcements are BS designed to make us think that our communications are secure.

    Since they lied about federal access to communications before, there is no reason to believe they aren’t lying now.

    1. “Hey, its cool guys, use Apple products instead of personal couriers.”

    2. If nothing else, these encryption schemes are still subject to the rubber hose attack.

    3. Google and Apple will give away your data in response to court orders and subpoenas (which has always been known to be the case) and in that sense, you should not trust them.

      But if the “lie” you are referring to is regarding PRISM, you are repeating a tired, BS meme. Other leaks have indicated that the solitary slide referring to “direct access” to servers was simply imprecise language referring to court ordered 702 disclosures being made available on company servers.

      And regardless, neither company claims to secure your calls or SMS, nor do they claim to encrypt emails in storage, so no, you shouldn’t think your “communications” are secure.

  2. If the government didn’t wildly abuse its power most people and tech companies wouldn’t be moving in this direction. People like him made this necessary.

    1. Exactly. If the security services had followed the constitution and only gone after specific data using specific warrants, then the general public’s desire for encryption would be much less than it is now. So much less, in fact, that I’m certain Apple and Google would not be moving in this direction.

      1. You abuse it, you lose it. Actions have consequences.

  3. something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law

    Holy shit, that’s quite the statement. He seems to think that people have an obligation to make it easy for law enforcement to spy on them.

    1. No one tell him about the fifth amendment. His day has been bad enough as it is.

      1. Does the 5A specifically mention digital media? Huh?

        1. Yes. If not as a “paper” regardless of medium, then as an “effect”, as in personal effects, as in personal property.

          Comey, go fuck yourself sideways with a rusty chainsaw and DIAF.

    2. something expressly to allow people to prevent the FBI from working beyond the law

  4. We’re all criminals.

    1. I can’t tell if you’re being ironic, or just pointing it out. Since, obviously, we are, given that no one can possibly know all the laws. :-/

      1. “Fuck You, That’s Why” shall be the whole of the law.

        1. As a practical matter, it already is.

  5. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law,” FBI Director James Comey whined to reporters gathered at FBI headquarters.

    To be honest, I am not all that worried about the government specifically tapping into my phone. I am generally worried about losing my phone, resulting in ANYBODY having access to my files, emails, etc., on it, whether that person is the government, a competitor to a client of mine or some random dude down the street. Which is why I encrypt my phone, as well as my laptop, and use encrypted storage services.

    That the FBI cannot fathom that the average person has a legitimate desire — one that has little to do with the government — to protect his/her information from loss or theft is disturbing.

    1. Government has isolated and insulated itself to such a degree that virtually no government employee can empathize with the peasants. They almost literally see them as a separate species, completely inscrutable and inconsequential, except as a resource to be exploited, or a nuisance to be squashed.

  6. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law”

    What concerns me about this is the FBI holding themselves above the American people and what they want–as clearly demonstrated by the marketability of a technology to discourage surveillance by federal law enforcement.

    I like the idea of Apple watching the watchers!

    1. The sad state of current affairs is that I would have more confidence in Apple is it was not a US company.

      1. The sad state of current affairs is such that I would have more confidence in Apple if it were not a US company.

        1. Well, one of the reasons I like the idea of Apple watching the watchers is that Apple is being watched by its competitors.

          They won’t be the only ones offering that feature for long.

          1. Free market solution to surveillance?

  7. What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law

    Two simple questions for him:

    1) Does the FBI encrypt any of its computers or other tech?

    2) If so, does he believe the FBI is above the law?

    1. does he believe the FBI is above the law?

      Call on me, Teacher! I know the answer!

      1. Yeah, a better question would have been why does he believe the FBI is above the law?

          1. At least make him come out and say it.

    2. One of the perks of enforcing the law is that you largely get to ignore it.

  8. “adjgkliy7ucnb-jmujsn hjhtkjnbhjk jhjibsgs”

    If you can read that, I will plead guilty.

    1. Damn, dude, I don’t even think Warty would’ve done that.

    2. “Wuh, I think so, Brain, but how will we get three pink flamingos into one pair of Capri pants?”

      1. Notice no equivalent admonition to females regarding males.

        Because everyone knows males always want it. /s

  9. Count me as unimpressed … because Apple could still have a secret backdoor for the Feds …

    And, if they did have a secret backdoor, Apple would deny it and the Feds would say they were pissed off.

    No communication from the US government is trustworthy. The purpose of government is never to propagate the truth; the purpose of government propaganda to indoctrinate and influence behavior. All communication from the US government therefore worthy of suspicion. In other words, the rational response to the FBI’s complaint is to ask why they are advertising the newly announced security features of Apple products.

  10. that guide at policeone is useful for criminals.. and journalists. also, anyone who films cops beating the shit out of someone would find the tips helpful to preserving evidence which assumes they don’t outright “lose” [read: destroy] your phone.

  11. “Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department, told the Washington Post.

    Using that logic, police officer will be the occupation of choice for murderers. Oh wait, it already is.

    1. Except that the defendant could be thrown in jail for contempt for refusing to disclose his passphrase, despite the whole constitutional right to not self-incriminate.

    2. There’s no logic there. So, what do you use to burn witches?

      How eerie of Chief Escalante to know what pedophiles are thinking before they think it. I’m no detective, but I wonder what brand of phone he carries?

      1. I’d bet he doesn’t have a cell phone.

        Not having a cell phone is the choice of pedophiles and murderers.

  12. Does encryption offer potential benefits to actual criminals? Sure. But it also helps protect the general public against officials and agencies we have no reason to trust.

    Don’t forget that encryption also protects people from criminals. The technology that cops use to get your data is also used by people who mean you harm.

    1. The technology that cops use to get your data is also used by people who mean you harm.

      You say that as if cops mean you well.

      1. Or as if they mean well in general.

  13. Holding yourself outside the law should be strictly the province of the government caste. Laws are for little people.

  14. “What has been an opt-in option until now will become default security for users that, at least theoretically, puts private information beyond the reach of snoops, device manufacturers?and law enforcement.”

    Comey further stated: “We at the FBI also object to pockets. Especially the fact that they are offered as a default rather than an option. Pockets allow “people” to carry things in a “concealed” manner making it virtually impossible for law enforcement to know “what has it got in its pockets, my precious?”

    1. *significant nested quotes errors.

  15. ROTFLMAO!!! His last name could not be more poetic!

  16. I see one benefit to the ‘default = secure’ setting… that way, you’re not automatically guilty of being a subversive if you DO turn ON the secure setting…

    Oh, wait… just buying a gadget with that default setting WOULD make you guilty in their eyes…

    Forget what I said…
    🙁

  17. “FBI Director James Comey told reporters that he is ‘a huge believer in the rule of law, but I am also a believer that no one in this country is above the law.’ “

    OK, I guess I’m just one of those bitter clingers who cannot understand “the law according to big government”, but what part of not creating a “back door” into my electronic devices which would allow the FBI to violate my 4th & 5th Amendment rights makes these companies the bad guys?

    Enlighten me, please!

  18. It’s going to take gunfire and ropes. There really no way around it anymore.

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