Rosenstein uses Texas shooter to lobby for encryption back doors

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein used the encrypted phone of the Texas shooting suspect to argue against tech companies encrypting data in a way that law enforcement could not later access. 

"[N]o reasonable person questions our right to access the phone," he said, giving keynote remarks at a breakfast in Linthicum, Md. 

The FBI has announced that Texas church shooter Devin Kelley's iPhone was encrypted, leaving them unable to access data on the phone for their investigation. 

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Almost as soon as the FBI made the announcement, the cybersecurity community began to speculate that this would be the next front in the so-called "crypto wars," an argument between tech companies, security advocates and the government over encryption so complex the government would need to spend decades of computer time in order to crack.

Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouston restaurant shuts down social media after Sessions photo backlash ACLU’s lawsuit may force Trump to stop granting asylum applications US judge rejects Russian company’s bid to dismiss Mueller charges MORE have argued throughout the Trump administration that tech companies either need to weaken or subvert the encryption process so that law enforcement can access cellphone data. Before that, through the Obama administration, former FBI Director James Comey made the same argument. 

Rosenstein made note of the last skirmish in the crypto wars in his speech, a work iPhone used by the attacker in a 2016 terrorist shooting in San Bernadino, Calif. 

"[T]he FBI obtained the consent of the phone’s legal owner — the San Bernardino County government — and also obtained a search warrant. But the data on the phone was encrypted, and Apple refused to help the FBI access the data. Ultimately, the government found a way to access the data. But considerable time and resources were spent on that difficult task," he said.

Comey termed the problem "going dark."

Apple has said it immediately reached out to the FBI to offer assistance getting information off of Kelley's cellphone. This was not mentioned in Rosenstein's speech.

"When you shoot dozens of innocent American citizens, we want law enforcement to investigate your communications and stored data," he said. 

"We expect police and prosecutors to investigate such horrendous crimes. There are things that we need to know."

Encryption and counter-terrorism experts, including former heads of the National Security Agency (NSA), CIA and Department of Homeland Security, argue that creating such "back doors" is a much greater security risk than hindering investigations.

Hackers, they say, may either capitalize on the back doors by researching weaknesses or by targeting government agencies tasked with guarding the keys. Many argue that the recent "ShadowBrokers" leak of NSA hacking tools demonstrates an inability to keep even the most closely-guarded secrets out of the public's hands.