Privacy and Public Safety
Americans can’t expect “absolute privacy,” according to controversial FBI director James Comey. Well, we don’t. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for citizens not to wish their privacy rights eroded any further than they have been over the last couple of decades. Which makes it concerning that Comey seems to still be advocating for the same issue: compromising information security in order to aid his agency in their investigations. That might not be how he would word it, but the reality now remains the same as it has been every time he broaches the subject. Introducing backdoors for phones or any other devices necessitates creating a key, and the likelihood that this key will always remain solely in the hands of the “right people”…well, there’s no reason to be confident.
Heck, sometimes even the right people aren’t ones you’d want to trust with your data.
This time, to be fair, Comey is calling for a “hard conversation” more than specifically insisting on installing backdoors. I suspect it’s still in his back pocket, though. His objections certainly sound the same. “It is making more and more of the room of what the FBI investigates dark,” he said, adding that there is a need to “build trust between the government and private sector.” Notable omission of the consumer in that trust-building exercise aside, Comey’s position is one that voices support for strong encryption, yet would take actions at odds with this stance.
On the online front, every single industry is currently trying to grapple with the new digital realities of our age—including, especially, how to confront the dynamic threat landscape to services and applications and address their vulnerabilities. Adding another one via hamstringing encryption is not what is needed right now. Internet of Things developments have already begun exacerbating the problem exponentially, as we’ve seen with last year’s unprecedented DDoS takedown of Dyn DNS services across the globe. That operation took advantage of about 100,000 IoT devices, including CCTV installations and refrigerators, to use as foot soldiers in the 1.2Tbps-strong attack.
Experts in the industry are offering some vocal resistance to any further dilution of cybersecurity. “If Comey thinks that encryption is increasingly blinding his agency’s investigative capability, I will point out that he’s trying to peer into the digital footprint of citizens more than ever before,” says Jacob Ginsberg, senior director at Echoworx, adding that “I certainly hope he invites industry experts, legal scholars, and security specialists to the table so that they can have their voices heard.”
Hopefully, whatever conversations are held, the ideas of privacy and public safety can cooperate, and not sabotage the other.