William Barr, U.S. attorney general, made lengthy comments on Tuesday (July 23) about encrypted messaging and the need for law enforcement to have access to those messages if necessary, according to a report.
Barr said Americans need to be able to accept the risks that come with companies installing backdoors that would give someone access to encrypted messages. The official noted that tech companies should be more willing to help law enforcement when it comes to getting access to devices.
Encrypted messaging is very common now among tech companies. Law enforcement officials claim that encryption impairs their ability to punish criminals.
The government has a special term for encryption: “going dark,” in reference to the inability to see what is being said. Many critics and security experts say there can’t be a safe way to give access to law enforcement without also opening up the chance for hackers to potentially get access.
Barr said the “significance of the risk should be assessed based on its practical effect on consumer cybersecurity, as well as its relation to the net risks that offering the product poses for society,” and that the “residual risk of vulnerability resulting from incorporating a lawful access mechanism is materially greater than those already in the unmodified product.”
He believes the cost was worth the price.
“Some argue that to achieve at best a slight incremental improvement in security, it is worth imposing a massive cost on society in the form of degraded safety,” he said. Barr also argued that it was an acceptable risk because “we are talking about consumer products and services such as messaging, smartphones, email and voice and data applications,” and “not talking about protecting the nation’s nuclear launch codes.”
The idea that these devices offer unbreakable security while freezing out law enforcement was “untenable,” Barr stated.
The remarks did not go unnoticed. Sen. Ron Wyden said the AG’s comments were “outrageous, wrongheaded and dangerous.”
“If we give this attorney general and this president the unprecedented power to break encryption across the board [and] burrow into the most intimate details of every American’s life – they will abuse those powers,” the senator said.