In an apparent flip-flop, FBI director James Comey and the FBI’s own website took different positions on the topic of encryption. But the discrepancy didn’t last long, as the website no longer displays information encouraging encryption.
Encryption is among the safety features you were urged to utilize, along with passcode protection, for personal data stored on a device: advice that has now been removed. For a more thorough overview of the changes, you can view the old advice on the Internet Archive.
It wasn’t that long ago that Comey conjured up images of a sobbing family lamenting the loss of a child to kidnappers in order to plant fear in readers’ minds about the dangers of encryption inhibiting FBI investigations. In that instance, he alluded to encryption as “an affront to the rule of law” that should be banned,
“We are drifting to a place where a whole lot of people are going to look at us with tears in their eyes.”
Comey is not alone in his contradictory language about encryption. President Obama has also straddled the fence on the issue, seeming to be in favour of, it then opposed to it for national security purposes). Comey goes on to say,
“Tech execs say privacy should be the paramount virtue. When I hear that I close my eyes and say try to image what the world looks like where pedophiles can’t be seen, kidnappers can’t be seen, drug dealers can’t be seen.”
An article on TechDirt wonders what would happen if the FBI’s plea for avoiding encryption, and the metaphors of children as victims, were taken further. Suppose the argument for unencrypted devices were extended to, say, allowing video cameras in every corner of your home to be connected to the FBI. More crimes might be solved – but at what cost to privacy?