Monday, July 13, 2015

"Can the government get special encryption access while preserving privacy?" PBS NewsHour 7/8/2015


SUMMARY:  The U.S. government wants to be able to read certain data that's inaccessible to intelligence agencies due to encryption.  At a Senate hearing, FBI director James Comey said the privacy technology can be a double-edged sword, detrimental to public safety.  Gwen Ifill speaks to former Homeland Security Department official Stewart Baker and Susan Landau of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Earlier in the day, the Obama administration went to Capitol Hill to make its case to allow government great access to encrypted information.  Essentially, the government wants to be able to read certain data that intelligence agencies cannot get now because it’s been protected with special codes.  That’s at the heart of an ongoing battle with tech companies.

JAMES COMEY, FBI Director:  Encryption is a great thing.  It keeps us all safe.  It protects innovation.

GWEN IFILL:  But, FBI Director James Comey warned at Senate hearings today, it’s also a double-edged sword.  That’s because the technologies that seal off smartphones from surveillance also impede efforts to track criminals and terrorists.

JAMES COMEY:  We are moving inexorably to a place where all of our lives, all of our papers and effects, all of our communications will be covered by universal strong encryption.  And that is a world that in some ways is wonderful and in some ways has serious public safety ramifications.

GWEN IFILL:  Google, Apple and other tech firms have ramped up data encryption in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations of sweeping government surveillance.  They’re also responding to stepped-up hacking coming from Russia and China.

But, at the same time, Islamic State followers and other militants are now using encrypted communications to recruit at a rapid pace.  Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates underscored that point today.

SALLY YATES, Deputy Attorney General:  ISIL currently communicates on Twitter, sending communications to thousands of would-be followers right here in our country.  When someone responds and the conversations begin, they are then directed to encrypted platforms for further communication.

And even with a court order, we can’t see those communications.  This is a serious threat.  And our inability to access these communications with valid court orders is a real national security problem.

GWEN IFILL:  And the FBI’s Comey suggested it’s just a matter of time before that leads to a terror attack.

JAMES COMEY:  We are stopping these things so far through tremendous hard work, the use of sources, the use of online undercovers, but it is incredibly difficult.  I cannot see me stopping these indefinitely.