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FBI Director To Ask Congress To Update Law Permitting Feds To Wiretap Phones

“It's going to be a tough fight for sure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the Patriot Act’s original author, said.
FBI Director To Ask Congress To Update Law Permitting Feds To Wiretap Phones

I gotta wonder if it's really that simple: Buy a new iPhone, forget about the feds eavesdropping. Is the encryption really unbreakable, or are the feds only looking for a plausible (legal) cover story for information they plan to get anyway? Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, nice to know this change has little support in Congress -- so far. The Hill:

FBI Director James Comey has launched a new “crypto war” by asking Congress to update a two-decade-old law to make sure officials can access information from people’s cellphones and other communication devices.The call is expected to trigger a major Capitol Hill fight about whether or not tech companies need to give the government access to their users' data.

“It's going to be a tough fight for sure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the Patriot Act’s original author, told The Hill in a statement.

He argues Apple and other companies are taking the privacy of consumers into their own hands because Congress has failed to pass legislation in response to public anger over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

“While Director Comey says the pendulum has swung too far toward privacy and away from law enforcement, he fails to acknowledge that Congress has yet to pass any significant privacy reforms,” he added. “Because of this failure, businesses have taken matters into their own hands to protect their consumers and their bottom lines.”

Comey argues that trend will make it harder to solve crimes.

“If this becomes the norm, I suggest to you that homicide cases could be stalled, suspects walked free, child exploitation not discovered and prosecuted,” he said last week.

Comey is asking that Congress update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a 1994 law that required telephone companies to make it possible for federal officials to wiretap their users' phone calls.

Many new mobile applications and other modern devices aren’t included under the law, however, making it difficult if not impossible for police to get a suspect’s records — even with a warrant.

Forcing companies to put in a “backdoor” to give officials access would also open them up to hackers in China and Russia, opponents claim, as well as violate Americans’ consitutional rights to privacy.


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Comey claimed the FBI was not looking for a “backdoor” into people’s devices.“We want to use the front door with clarity and transparency,” he said.

But for critics, that’s a distinction without a difference.

“The notion that it’s not a backdoor; it’s a front door — that’s just wordplay,” said Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. “It just makes no sense.”

It was reminiscent, he said, of the mid-1990s debate over the “Clipper Chip,” an electronic chip that federal officials wanted to insert in devices allowing them to access people’s communications. In the end, Congress did not require that companies use that chip in their technology.

Similar arguments have emerged every few years, as technology has gotten better and government agents have feared being left behind. “This is the third or fourth replay,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “So far Congress has done the right thing and stood aside when companies are given the latitude they need to make communications devices and services more secure.

”Early indications are that it could be an uphill push for the FBI.“I’d be surprised if more than a handful of members would support the idea of backdooring Americans’ personal property,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who would staunchly oppose the measure, said in a statement shared with The Hill.

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