The FBI Director Thinks Encryption Is a "Business Model Problem"

The latest round of FBI Director James Comey’s War On Encryption came during a Senate Judiciary Commitee hearing this morning. Comey’s latest revelation is that encryption isn’t a ‘technical problem’: it’s a problem with the ‘business model’ of wanting to keep users’ data private.

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Comey’s speech this morning laid out a slightly different model for breaking encryption than the one that he has previously hinted at. In the past, Comey has suggested that tech companies should wave a magic wand, change the principles of encryption, and grant law enforcement “front door” access to data on a device.

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Now that that idea has been roundly shot down (and perhaps the good folk of Silicon Valley explained to Comey how math works), Comey is back with a new suggestion: companies should reevaluate the “business model” of end-to-end encryption, which can’t be unlocked by anyone else, with something weaker.

Comey’s argument goes something like this: end-to-end encryption didn’t use to be the standard across the internet, but now it is, and it’s preventing companies like Microsoft and Apple from complying with court orders to reveal users’ data.

This is kinda like the FBI complaining that lock companies are now building locks that they can’t pick, and as a result, people shouldn’t be using that lock in case law enforcement has to raid your house looking for terrorists. One bright light, however: Comey also acknowledged that “encryption is very important to safety on the internet,” just not when it’s making his life harder.

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DISCUSSION

I keep reading these articles on tech sites mocking these statements, and I tend to agree that most of them are wrong. What I don’t see is any solution being suggested by any of the writers. Is it really impossible for a company to hold encryption keys securely? What do you do about the Director’s factual assertion that in one case he has 109 messages, sent by someone who is a terrorist on US soil, to an overseas contact involved with terrorism, and he can’t read them despite having a unquestionably valid court order; this is a real problem. Even having heard all of the arguments about encrytion having to be rock solid in order for it to be effective, people also have to understand the idea that “there has to be a way.”