FBI boss Comey slams Apple & Google over new encryption methods

small__7562831366The FBI is getting a bit riled over Apple Inc. and Google Inc.’s decision to use tougher encryption methods in its mobile devices, because it’s making it almost impossible for spooks to snoop on suspected criminal.

“There will come a day – well it comes every day in this business – when it will matter a great, 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,” said FBI Director James Comey.

“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.'”

Apple has made a big deal of its decision to alter file encryption in iOS 8. As it works now, not even Apple has access to its customer’s crypto-keys so it can’t be ordered to give them up. Instead, the device owner’s passcode creates the encryption and decryption keys, rather than Apple itself.

Google is also planning to switch to a similar system for Android devices, and that hasn’t gone down too well with Comey and his law enforcement buddies.

“I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I am also a believer that no one in this country is above the law,” whined Comey . “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”

According to Comey, the FBI is now discussing the new encryption methods with Apple and Google, but he didn’t reveal what the talks were about. However, it’s pretty clear he’s upset the FBI can no longer go direct to Apple and Google when they need to access suspect’s devices, though iCloud data is probably still easy pickings for them.

We should point out that not all data on iOS 8 is encrypted though. According to security expert Jonathan Zdziarski, the Feds can still access some data if they really want it.

But it’s still not enough to satisfy Comey, who complains that privacy measures have gone too far.

“I get that the post-Snowden world has started an understandable pendulum swing,” he continued. “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.”

What Comey doesn’t seem to understand is there’s a certain section of society who deem that their digital privacy is worth more to them than whatever benefits they might get from law enforcement having unfettered access to people’s data. That’s why companies like Silent Circle have found a market for their encryption tools, and now big players like Apple and Google are meeting that demand too.

Even with Comey’s criticism, it’s hard to see Apple or Google letting the FBI install a backdoors into their products – such a move would be commerical suicide if customers ever found out.

photo credit: Merrill College of Journalism Press Releases via photopin cc

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