- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2019

FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated concerns about strong digital encryption allowing criminals to communicate under the radar of authorities Tuesday.

Mr. Wray, who has headed the bureau since August 2017, addressed law enforcement’s so-called “Going Dark” dilemma during a live discussion held at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.

“Just as technology has become a force multiplier for the good guys, it has become a force multiplier for the bad guy — for terrorists, hackers, spies, criminals,” Mr. Wray said about encryption.

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“What I know is that not a week goes by where I don’t encounter across basically all our programs some significant, insurmountable impediment from some of those same criminals, hackers, spies, et cetera, hiding with encrypted devices or encrypted messaging platforms,” he said. “So it’s a public safety issue that we’re concerned about.”

Law enforcement officials have protested for years over increasingly ubiquitous, encryption making it difficult for investigators to decipher evidence lawfully obtained by authorities, such as text messages stored on password-protected phones, and conversations conducted over platforms where communications are encrypted end-to-end, like the popular Signal smartphone app.

Mr. Wray said he is “not to try to go to war with anybody over it,” however, and denied the FBI wants encrypted systems to be built with “back doors” that can be exploited by investigators when needed.

“I get a little frustrated when people suggest that we’re trying to weaken encryption,” Mr. Wray said. “To be clear, those are not our words. We are not trying to weaken encryption. We are not seeking back doors any more thank I think the folks, the well-intentioned critics on the other side, are trying to weaken public safety.

“But I do know that this is an issue that’s getting worse and worse all the time, and every state and local law enforcement leader I deal with, every member of the intelligence community I deal with, every foreign partner I deal with, is raising this issue with growing urgency,” he continued. “It can’t be a sustainable end state for there to be an entirely unfettered space that’s utterly beyond fully lawful access for criminals, terrorists and spies to hide their communications.”

The debate over strong encryption was rekindled in early 2016 after federal prosecutors were initially unable to access data stored on a password protected phone that belonged to a deceased suspected terrorist accused of conducting a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The Department of Justice sued Apple in federal court seeking the company’s assistance in accessing the suspect’s iPhone prior to abandoning the litigation in place of hiring a third-party security vendor.

Addressing the problems posed by strong encryption in July 2018, Mr. Wray said at the time that he was confident technologists could find a way to resolve the “Going Dark” dilemma.

More recently, Mr. Wray said at RSA that he believes a resolution can be reached.

“I would love to see people try to come together to work towards solutions, and increasingly, during my first 18 months in private conversations from experts, cryptographers, cryptologists, etc., I’m hearing increasingly that there are solutions to be had if people are willing to put their heads together, and so that’s what I hope to accomplish,” Mr. Wray said.

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