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FBI Challenges Tech Giants On Encryption

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking to challenge technology companies to do more as it reacts to terrorism threats after the attacks that came in the last several weeks in both California and Paris. The key thrust, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday (Dec. 29), comes as the bureau wants access to help decrypt communications that are part of investigations into terrorism and potential terrorism.

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James Comey, the director of the bureau, is looking to “escape a continuing debate” over the actual nature of, and even realistic hopes of, decryption — which is a conversation WSJ says gives the advantage to Silicon Valley firms — and toward a policy that would lessen emphasis on privacy at the expense of safety. The FBI head said at a congressional hearing that the actual focus is “a business model question … [firms] have designed their systems and their devices so that judges’ orders cannot be complied with … Should they change their business model? That is a very, very hard question.”

No quarter is being given by the tech firms themselves, as they want to avoid having to change even the basic nature of their products. And, add tech executives, offering up a “key” that would allow the FBI and investigators a gateway to sensitive information may actually be a danger in that hackers could gain the same access. There are a few fissures in techland, however; BlackBerry has said it will work with agencies in order to respond swiftly to court orders, and CEO John Chen has said that his firm’s “privacy commitment does not extend to criminals.”

The debate is not a new one, as Justice Department officials last year met with Apple attorneys in an effort to voice concerns about virtually impenetrable “end-to-end” encryption practices among tech companies. The overarching theme of such data cloaking means, according to law enforcement officials, that scrutiny of suspects remains uneven.

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