A senior FBI official who testified before Congress during the agency’s battle with Apple over access to a locked iPhone used in the San Bernardino terrorist attack says end-to-end encryption is a “problem [that] infects law enforcement and the intelligence community more and more so every day.”
The remark was made in reference to Apple and other tech firms warning of the dangers of compromising strong encryption following the passing of an Australian law that would require the companies to help access encrypted messages on demand.
The WSJ quoted FBI executive assistant director Amy Hess as saying:
The so-called going-dark issue, or the government’s inability to access data as devices get more encoded and difficult to crack, “is a problem [that] infects law enforcement and the intelligence community more and more so every day,” said Amy Hess, executive assistant director with the FBI, in an interview. Ms. Hess, who previously oversaw the FBI’s science and technology branch, testified to Congress on the problem during Apple’s 2016 clash with the bureau.
Governments want access to user data to solve crimes and track potential threats. Silicon Valley companies, fearful that this access could be misused for spying or exploited by hackers, continue to build products that are so securely encrypted that the tech companies themselves are sometimes unable to access the data on them. And many tech companies are resisting any efforts to weaken their encryption capabilities.
Apple joined nine other technology firms in warning Australian legislators against banning end-to-end encryption, saying the move places its citizens at risk of having their personal data exposed. The group said the law was “deeply flawed.” The coalition included Microsoft, Apple, Google, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Oath, LinkedIn, Evernote, Snap, and Twitter.
Apple had spoken out against the law as early as last October, stating the law would be a “huge risk to our digital security.” Apple went on to say that it is “wrong to weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers in order to investigate the very few who post a threat.”
The law, as passed in Australia is vague, forcing tech companies to aid the government in accessing encrypted messages. However, the law does not define the scope of the required assistance. Apple and other companies have said they wouldn’t be able to help in decrypting end-to-end encrypted messages, as they don’t have access to the encryption keys.
Apple said at the time that it feared that the “broad and vague terms” of the law could result in a requirement to weaken encryption. The Cupertino firm also fears that the Australian law could set a precedent for the United States, leading to similar legislation in that country.