The FBI is still banging the drum for tech firms to give it a “backdoor” to encrypted devices and this time it’s offered a clear explanation of how encryption is preventing law enforcement from conducting certain investigations related to terrorist attacks.
“In May, when two terrorists attempted to kill a whole bunch of people in Garland, Texas, and were stopped by great local law enforcement … that morning before one of those terrorists went to attempt mass murder, he exchanged 109 messages with an overseas terrorist,” FBI Director James Comey said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“We have no idea what he said because those messages were encrypted. And to this day, I can’t tell you what those messages said with that terrorist 109 times the morning of that attack. That’s a big problem, and we have to grapple with it.”
As Business Insider reports, ISIS claimed responsibility for the Garland attack, where two gunmen inspired by ISIS planned to commit mass murder at a contest that featured drawings of Muhammed. The gunmen wounded a security guard before being killed by other officers.
It’s not surprising to hear that bad guys prefer encrypted apps and devices over non-encrypted ones, although recent history has shown they don’t always use them. In the Paris attacks, evidence that lead to a successful assault of the second cell of ISIS terrorists was found on a device that wasn’t encrypted, and the official investigation has yet to reveal whether encryption did indeed prevent French spies from avoiding the accident.
But that doesn’t mean backdoors into encrypted products are needed. That argument is still not a valid one, as backdoors can further harm consumers. After all, third parties other than intelligence agencies often search for entry points into devices, and backdoors in encrypted services could be something hackers and other governments may be interested in exploiting themselves.