Wyden: Don't let FBI weaken Americans' security

The FBI wants to weaken Americans’ digital security, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Energy & Environment — High court will hear case on water rule Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks Biden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  MORE (D-Ore.) argued in an Los Angeles Times op-ed.

"Americans are demanding strong security for their personal data,” Wyden wrote. “[FBI Director James] Comey and others are suggesting that security features shouldn't be too strong, because this could interfere with surveillance conducted for law enforcement or intelligence purposes.”


Wyden is trying to build support for a bill he introduced earlier this month that would prohibit the government from requiring companies to place so-called “backdoors” into their electronic devices. These backdoors are intentional security gaps that allow law enforcement access to data on the device.

A 1994 law already requires telephone companies to make sure federal officials can wiretap landline phones. The FBI has been pushing Congress to expand that law to cover mobile electronic devices such as cellphones, tablets and laptops. Such an expansion is necessary to conduct legitimate criminal investigation, the bureau argues.

“The problem with this logic is that building a backdoor into every cellphone, tablet, or laptop means deliberately creating weaknesses that hackers and foreign governments can exploit,” Wyden wrote. “What these officials are proposing would be bad for personal data security and bad for business and must be opposed by Congress.”

Intelligence agencies have lost credibility on these issues, making “misleading and outright inaccurate statements to Congress about data surveillance programs,”  Wyden argued.

“These agencies spied on huge numbers of law-abiding Americans, and their dragnet surveillance of Americans' data did not make our country safer,” he continued.

Wyden has consistently been one of the National Security Agency's most vocal critics since government leaker Edward Snowden revealed the existence of U.S. surveillance programs that collected data on Americans.

“This breach of trust is also hurting U.S. technology companies' bottom line, particularly when trying to sell services and devices in foreign markets,” Wyden wrote.

Estimates vary, but most agree the U.S. cloud computing sector stands to lose tens of billions of dollars in the coming years because of fallout from the Snowden revelations.

A bill ensuring U.S. tech companies products have no inherent security flaws would help business as well as help restore trust among the American public.

“We should give law enforcement and intelligence agencies the resources that they need to adapt, and give the public the data security they demand,” Wyden concluded.