FBI to Silicon Valley: Give us access

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FBI Director James Comey wants Silicon Valley to help create a workaround that would give the government access to encrypted data despite public resistance from major tech companies.

“There shouldn’t be venom,” he said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday. “We should all care about the same thing.”

{mosads}The tech community and Washington are locked in a battle over encryption standards. The Obama administration wants some type of guarantee that law enforcement can access locked data with a warrant. But technologists believe any such guarantee weakens online privacy and the American tech sector’s global competitiveness.

Comey thinks Silicon Valley hasn’t tried hard enough.

For months, Comey has implored the tech elite to turn their efforts to creating a form of encryption that both protects data and allows companies to decrypt information when required by a warrant.

“I really believe we have not given this the shot it deserves,” he said.

The message has not gone over well on the West Coast. Leaders from top tech firms including Facebook, Google and Twitter just last week told Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the Intelligence panel’s top Democrat, that it wanted to see proposals from the government first.

The government is not equipped to present the best proposal, Comey countered during the hearing.

“You should not look to the government for innovation,” he said. “Technological innovation is not our thing.”

Lawmakers are unsure what Silicon Valley’s responsibility should be in working with the government on encryption.

During Thursday morning remarks at an industry conference, Schiff said he understands why a tech firm would want to stay away from the project, even if it creates challenges for law enforcement.

“Look, there’s an economic alignment of their philosophy and their business here,” he said. “I don’t think that they want to be in the business of trying to come up with a solution.”

“It’s not in their economic interest,” Schiff added.

During the hearing, Rep. Eric Swalwell, another California Democrat, acknowledged the tension between the desire for privacy and the desire to ensure national security. He suggested Silicon Valley may have swung too far toward the privacy side.

“Back at home in the Bay Area, sometimes it seems like we’ve forgotten about 9/11,” he said.

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