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FBI Director backs new Senator Feinstein Push for Decryption Bill



The battle over encryption with the FBI and other governments was likely the top tech battle in 2016. While we covered some 90 reports, here are just a few: one, two, three, four and five. It now seems that the government may be back on this subject again. Today, answering questions at a Senate oversight committee hearing this morning, FBI Director James Comey has hinted at growing consensus between technology companies and intelligence agencies over the controversial issue of how to access encrypted data.


A new TechCrunch report posted notes that "Comey also supported what appears to be a fresh push by Senator Dianne Feinstein to introduce legislation to enable courts to order access to encrypted devices."


Patently Apple posted a report on this a year ago titled "The First Draft of the New Feinstein-Burr 'Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016' Leaked." Shortly after, the Feinstein-Burr work went silent. So it's interesting that the subject is once again rearing its head.


TechCrunch further noted that "In a written statement to the Judiciary committee, Comey said the FBI had been unable to access the contents of more than 3,000 mobile devices in the first half of the fiscal year, using what he described as 'appropriate and available technical tools, even though there was the legal authority to do so.'


He said that represented 'nearly half' of all the mobile devices it had attempted to access in that timeframe. In the statement he also argued that case-by-case investigative workarounds to gain access to encrypted devices are 'difficult to scale' and 'may be perishable due to a short technical lifecycle' or else as a consequence of an exploit being disclosed via legal proceedings.


'We've had very good open and productive conversations with the private sector over the last 18 months about this issue, because everybody realizes we care about the same things. We all love privacy, we all care about public safety and none of us want backdoors — we don't want access to devices built in some way. What we want to work with the manufacturers on is to figure out how can we accommodate both interests in a sensible way,' said Comey in response to a question from senator Hatch about the security risks of backdoors being built in to enable access to encrypted data.


'How can we optimize the privacy, security features of their devices and allow court orders to be complied with. We're having some good conversations — I don't know where they're going to end up, frankly. I could imagine a world that ends up with legislation saying that if you're going to make devices in the US you figure out how to comply with court orders. Or maybe we don't go there. But we are having productive conversations right now I think.


We weren't picking on Apple in the San Bernardino case,' he added. 'There were real reasons why we needed to get into that device — and that is true in case after case after case. And that is why we have to figure out a way to optimize those two things: privacy and public safety.'


For a lot more on this story read the full TechCrunch report here.


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