FBI Director: 'We Don't Want to Break Encryption or Set a Master Key Loose'

By Jamie Condliffe on at

At this point, the Apple-FBI scrap over putting a backdoor in iOS has started to get a little messy. Now, the FBI’s director James Comey has spoken out in an attempt to calm the situation, writing that “the San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message”.

In an op-ed published by Lawfare, Comey writes that the “particular legal issue” over which Apple is objecting is “actually quite narrow”. He goes on to defend the FBI’s position, writing:

The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.

He notes that the case highlights the fact that new technology “creates a serious tension between two values we all treasure: privacy and safety”, but also claims that the “tension should not be resolved by corporations that sell stuff for a living [... nor ...] the FBI.” Instead, he argues, “it should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before.”

Some may argue that Apple is vocalising the views of many American citizens whose voices would struggle to be heard otherwise — others may disagree. Either way, Apple will deliver its final response to the courts later this week. [Lawfare]