FBI Director urges action on cell phone encryption
Posted: 8:37 pm Sunday, March 29th, 2015
By Jamie Dupree
In yet another very public warning about advanced cell phone encryption techniques from Apple and Google, FBI Director James Comey says Congress may have to get involved to insure that police can use court approved search warrants to access private information on smartphones for legal searches.
“We have a huge problem,” the FBI Director told lawmakers at a budget hearing last week.
“I think ultimately it’s going to require some kind of legislative fix,” Comey added, worried that doing nothing will “create spaces that are behind the reach of the law in the United States.”
“I think we have to have a conversation in this country about where we are going,” the FBI Director said of the current situation involving cell phone privacy.
Asked by lawmakers, Comey said he has no problems with a Supreme Court ruling from last year, which requires police to get a search warrant before checking anyone’s cell phone.
“The Fourth Amendment is clearly in play, and I follow it,” Comey testified.
The FBI Director says the problem is that even when police have a search warrant, they often cannot get past new forms of cell phone encryption.
“I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but it’s something we have to talk about,” Comey added.
Comey’s remarks sparked an unusual scene, as lawmakers in both parties basically put his testimony on hold for a few minutes and began debating amongst themselves what the answer should be, leaving to Comey to watch from the witness table.
“I think the Director is correct; there may need to be legislative activity, because the people we represent have some interest in privacy,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA).
“But we also need to protect public safety,” Fattah.
“I’m not trying to pick on the folks at Apple or Google,” Comey said. “Their view is they are responding to competitive pressures.”
“But to have a zone of privacy that is outside the reach of the law is very concerning,” Comey added.