The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has called on technology companies to build surveillance capabilities into their products and systems to allow law enforcement agencies to access the evidence needed to prosecute criminals.
In a speech delivered in Washington last night, FBI director James B Comey argued that US law had failed to keep pace with the increasing adoption of encryption technologies.
Comey blamed encryption and the growing options available for online communications for leaving law enforcement “in the dark” and creating a “significant public safety problem”.
“Those charged with protecting our people aren’t always able to access the evidence we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism even with lawful authority,” Comey said.
“We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications and information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so.”
He listed four examples of cases in which access to a mobile phone or laptop had proved vital to an investigation, and another where such access enabled the exonerated of someone who had been wrongly accused.
Comey argued that such outcomes would become less frequent – or at least more difficult to achieve – if use of encryption and communications options grew without being addressed by the law.
He criticised companies such as Google and Apple – who have taken steps to prevent law enforcement access to user data by locking themselves out of user devices – for creating a “black hole for law enforcement”.
“Both companies are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate as a country,” he said.
“Encryption is nothing new. But the challenge to law enforcement and national security officials is markedly worse, with recent default encryption settings and encrypted devices and networks – all designed to increase security and privacy.”
He said while the FBI understood the private sector’s desire to remain competitive, the agency needed to ensure companies understood “what we need, why we need it, and how they can help, while still protecting privacy rights and providing network security and innovation”.
“We need our private sector partners to take a step back, to pause, and to consider changing course.”
The relevant 20-year old US law requires telcos to build interception capabilities into their networks for court-ordered surveillance. It does not, however, cover new means of communications, meaning companies are not required to provide lawful intercept capabilities for such services.
“What this means is that an order from a judge to monitor a suspect’s communication may amount to nothing more than a piece of paper,” Comey said.
“We aren’t seeking to expand our authority to intercept communications. We are struggling to keep up with changing technology and to maintain our ability to actually collect the communications we are authorised to intercept.”
“urges” should be replaced with “demands”..and look at mr smiley up the top..the face of 1984..
“called on technology companies to build surveillance capabilities into their products and systems to allow law enforcement agencies to access the evidence needed to prosecute criminals.”
not to spy on joe average of course..no, no..if you have nothing to hide it shouldn’t bother you eh? #sarcasm
“He criticised companies such as Google and Apple – who have taken steps to prevent law enforcement access to user data by locking themselves out of user devices “
how dare they try to keep their data safe!! #moresarcasm