Top FBI Official Says Tech Companies Need To ‘Prevent Encryption Above All Else’

By | June 6, 2015

Top FBI Official Says Tech Companies Need To 'Prevent Encryption Above All Else'

While testifying before Congress, Michael Steinbach, assistant director in the FBI's Counterterrorism Division, just went to the levels of pure insanity, in arguing that above all else companies should work to prevent encryption. This was during a ridiculous grandstanding hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee entitled "Terrorism Gone Viral", and Steinbach didn't waste the opportunity to make a ridiculously viral comment of his own:

So that’s the challenge: working with those companies to build technological solutions to prevent encryption above all else.

Above all else? Is he crazy? At least his written testimony isn't quite as crazy, but still has a bunch of fear-mongering about "going dark."

Unfortunately, changing forms of internet communication are quickly outpacing laws and technology designed to allow for the lawful intercept of communication content. This real and growing gap the FBI refers to as “Going Dark” is the source of continuing focus for the FBI, it must be urgently addressed as the risks associated with “Going Dark” are grave both in traditional criminal matters as well as in national security matters.

He also seemed positively freaked out that some social networks actually recognize that protecting their users privacy is a good thing:

"There are 200-plus social media companies. Some of these companies build their business model around end-to-end encryption," said Michael Steinbach, head of the FBI's counterterrorism division. "There is no ability currently for us to see that" communication, he said.

"We're past going dark in certain instances. We are dark," he added.

While the head of the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul played along with this insanity, arguing about how these so called "dark spaces" are a "tremendous threat to the homeland" at least Rep. Ted Lieu — the same Rep. who recently called out the push to backdoor encryption as "technologically stupid" — has some more thoughts on the FUD and grandstanding by McCaul and Steinbach. As he told the Intercept:

“When they talk about dark places, ooooh it sounds really scary,” Lieu said. “But you have a dark place in your home you can talk, you can meet in a park — there are a zillion dark places the FBI will never get to and they shouldn’t because we don’t want to be monitored in our home.” ‚Ķ..

“The notion that encryption is somehow different than other forms of destroying and hiding things is simply not true,” Lieu told The Intercept. “Forty years ago, you could make the statement that paper shredders are one of the most damaging things to national security because they destroy documents that law enforcement might want to see.”

More Lieu, less McCaul and Steinbach, please.

The thing is, as we've noted before, what's equally as disturbing as the ignorant statements from folks like Steinbach is that now, security researchers and tech companies are going to have to waste tons of time and resources explaining why all of this is not just "technically stupid" but actively makes all of us less safe. And they need to do that, rather than building stronger encryption, which is what we really need.


The debate over encryption erupted on Capitol Hill again Wednesday, with an FBI official testifying that law enforcement’s challenge is working€ with tech companies “to build technological solutions to prevent encryption above all else.”

At first glance the comment from€ Michael B. Steinbach, assistant director in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, might appear to go further than FBI Director James B. Comey. Encryption, a technology widely used to secure digital information by scrambling data so only authorized users can decode it, is “a good thing,” Comey has said, even if he wants the government to have the ability get around it.

But Steinbach’s testimony also suggests he meant that companies shouldn’t put their customers’ access to encryption ahead of national security concerns — rather than saying the government’s top priority should be preventing the use of the technology that secures basically everything people do online.

“Privacy, above all other things, including safety and freedom from terrorism, is not where we want to go,” Steinbach said. He also disputed the “back door” term used by experts to describe such built-in access points. “We’re not looking at going through a back door or being nefarious,” he argued, saying that the agency wants to be able to access content after going through a judicial process. …

most notably Apple with its iPhone –€ have expanded how they protect users with encryption, in some cases automatically rolling out€ a€ more robust form of encryption called end-to-end. End-to-end protections mean that only the sender and the recipient can unlock communications — so tech companies can’t provide access to law enforcement even if served with a legitimate court order.

This prompted a backlash from some law enforcement officials, who warn that encryption can allow criminals and terrorists to “go dark” — making it harder for the government to track them. Leaders such as Comey have argued that Congress should make tech companies build in ways for law enforcement to access secured content from their products.

To me this does seem insane. It’s like demanding that everyone wear a microphone 24/7 so everything they say can be recorded by the government and anything less than that is dangerous to the population. I don’t buy that argument. The FBI has a job to do, and while being able to spy on everyone would make it easier in some ways, I don’t see that benefit as being worth the harm you do to liberty by removing privacy. Privacy is liberty. Keep America free.


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