If you are looking for one of the hottest debated topics in the smartphone world right now, then you only have to look at ‘encryption’. While it seems the general consensus of the tech community is that encryption matters and the better the encryption (meaning the less breakable it is) the better, there is the argument being put forward by those against such heightened levels of encryption and especially by some law enforcement agencies and government officials. An argument which suggests that sometimes, encryption needs to be broken to obtain necessary information for the good of everyone. An argument which essentially goes against the very nature of unbreakable encryption, due to the notion that a way in (a backdoor) must always be available. Enter the Encryption bill.
While this is a debate that is raging right now and while the legality and the actual practical ability to implement such an encryption bill is being highly contested, it seems this is only the start of the conversation on the future of personal devices and privacy within the U.S. At least that is the sentiment which has been put forward today by FBI Director, James Comey.
While addressing reporters at a Federal Bureau of Investigation briefing today, Comey noted that encryption is basically the “essential tradecraft” of terrorist groups and as such, is likely to be an aspect which will continue to be discussed in terms of what government can legally do to ensure encrypted devices are able to be accessed when needed. In fact, Comey went beyond the more high-profile terrorist argument by name-dropping WhatsApp an an example of how encryption is currently impeding the FBI’s ability to fight crime within the U.S. With Comey noting that WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption (which only recently rolled out to all users) has proven especially problematic. Adding that since October the FBI has looked at 4,000 devices and so far have been unable to unlock around 500 of them. With all this in mind, there were no indications that Comey or the FBI are planning to take matters further with WhatsApp specifically and instead this seemed to be more of an observation being made to highlight the current issues facing law enforcement agencies when it comes to encrypted devices and services. Although, it does seem clear that this will remain a topic for conversation within the tech and legal communities for some time to come.