FBI Director Comey on needing access to dark encrypted closets where monsters hide

In a series of recent speeches, FBI Director James Comey discussed fighting monsters, the militarization of police, online terrorist propaganda, the risk of Going Dark due to encryption and how we need to stop before the U.S. becomes a 'law-free zone.'

FBI
Credit: FBI

FBI Director James Comey delivered the keynote speech at Fordham Law School's Center on National Security. Comey said terrorism is “more worrisome” than it was in 2005 due to the Internet and the sheer volume terrorist propaganda online that influences people who might join an extremist group overseas. Those individuals don’t have to meet with a member of Al-Qaeda in person as they “are radicalized by online propaganda” and are "equipped to engage in their jihad without ever actually leaving their basement or bedroom," he said. They "can get all they need on the Internet to engage in an act of violence here in the United States."

The FBI is tracking about a dozen Americans fighting with terror organizations. Comey said, “If I have evidence that you have fought with any of these foreign terrorist organizations, you will be locked up. We will track you until you land here and then we will lock you up.” If it’s a dozen or so sick puppies, then get them; why does the FBI believe it needs new hacking powers to conduct remote surveillance?

Comey again talked about the risks of the FBI “Going Dark” and the dangers of new technology such as encryption being turned on by default on devices. “I don’t want to tell people what to do,” he said, but "I want to try to foster a national conversation about this." He explained that the FBI needs to be able to access people’s personal communications, needs a solution to allow the FBI “lawful authority to be able to have the company unlock the device.” Comey admitted the FBI is still talking with Apple and Google about the encryption issue, but declined to give any specifics.

There were some technical difficulties during which the live-streaming of "Today’s Terrorism: Today’s Counterterrorism" conference was instead “off air” or the audio was instead a bunch of garbled goobly-gook. Since Comey’s speech is not yet listed in the FBI’s index of speeches, that left Twitter to fill in the blank.

FBI investigates in secret for a reason Center on National Security at FordhamLaw

In most horror flicks, if the monster or boogeyman isn’t hiding under the bed, then it is hiding in the closet. According to a tweet by Daphne Eviatar, Senior Counsel in Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program, the FBI says it needs access to people’s closets to catch monsters.

FBI wants access to your closet Daphne Eviatar

In fact, last week during the International Association of Chiefs of Police 121st Annual Conference, Comey stated:

“My hope is that before we get to a place in this country where we market trunks of cars that cannot be opened … closets that can never be opened … or smartphones that can never, ever be opened, that we have a conversation—especially in the United States.”

“I don’t want somebody rooting through my smartphone, looking at the pictures I send back and forth with my five children about their volleyball game, about how they’re doing in school,” said Comey. “But before we get to a place where we’ve created a law-free zone, a place in this country where criminals are beyond the reach of lawful authority, this democracy needs to have a conversation about it.”

Although Comey said “privacy is tremendously important” and Americans “should be skeptical of government power,” he added, “I worry that the post-Snowden wind has blown us to a place beyond reason; a place where skepticism has become unreasoned cynicism and suspicion of the authority we need to be able to enforce the laws of this country.”

Besides talking about terrorism, intelligence and risks of “Going Dark,” Comey touched on the topics of monsters and social media images that sway the public’s perception about “warrior cops” or the “militarization of the police.”

“We all tell a lie to our children,” he told the law enforcement audience. When kids wake up during the night afraid of monsters, we say, “Go back to sleep, monsters aren’t real.” But “monsters are real” and “are equipped with horrific equipment designed to harm innocent people.” He added, “Because of that reality—because monsters are real, and too often equipped with firepower to outgun those of us in law enforcement—we need a range of weapons and equipment to respond and protect our fellow citizens and protect ourselves.”

It feels sometimes like a no-win situation in the discussion about Going Dark, where people think we’re against privacy. We are absolutely committed to respecting people’s privacy—but we also have other obligations we need to bring to bear as well. Many citizens will instinctively recoil at the notion that we need to be able to intercept communications on the Internet—just as many of our citizens will demand that we “connect the dots,” demand that we break up terrorist cells before they can act, demand that we protect kids from pedophile predators.

Likewise, a lot of good people are uneasy when they see a city’s police department with armored vehicles or a SWAT team. But at the same time, they will expect us to respond to mass-casualty events and to barricaded predators bent on killing innocent people.

In both cases, whether it’s Going Dark or the equipment we have and how we use it, I think the answer is to talk to our citizens—to have an open conversation about what we do and why we do it, and then listen to their concerns and engage with them. What we learn from these conversations, and what the good people in our communities learn from these conversations, will help us strike the right balances.

Today Comey claimed the “FBI doesn't do counter-propaganda,” that "it's not our thing." Yet according to a tweet by investigative journalist Janet Reitman, the FBI wants to become a domestic CIA; doesn't that as well as fighting monsters in people's digital closets imply a propaganda war?

FBI to become domestic CIA Janet Reitman

 

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