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FBI director reiterates need to be able to read encrypted data

Story highlights

  • FBI Director James Comey reiterated the need for the intelligence community to have access to encrypted data to detect national security threats
  • The problem of suspects "going dark" continues to be a challenge for the FBI

Washington (CNN)Following reports that the Paris attackers used encrypted phone applications to communicate, FBI Director James Comey reiterated on Wednesday the need for the intelligence community to have access to encrypted data in order to detect threats to national security.

While ISIS has been known to recruit members using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, Comey warned that potential attackers are being directed through communication platforms to which authorities have no access, even through warrants and wiretaps.
    "The threat posed to us by the group called ISIL, the so-called Islamic State, which, in the United States we talk about what they've been doing here, the recruiting through social media, if they find a live one, they move them to Twitter direct messaging. Which we can get access to through judicial process," Comey said during a cybersecurity symposium at The Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    "But if they find someone they think may kill on their behalf, or might come and kill in the caliphate, they move to a mobile messaging app that's end-to-end encrypted."
    Though Comey relented that encryption does play a role in safeguarding information when it comes to protecting personal information, the intelligence community believes that it also creates a vulnerability in U.S. national security, saying that public safety and privacy rights are values that are currently colliding with one another.
    The discovery of a cell phone used by one of the Paris attackers near the site of the Bataclan theater has brought the encryption issue back to the forefront as investigators try to piece together how the terrorists managed to plan the complex assaults without being detected by French or Belgian intelligence services. Information the U.S. intelligence community will be eager to know as suspects "going dark" continues to be a challenge for the FBI.
    "And at that moment, the needle (in the haystack) we've been searching the entire nation to find, and have found, goes invisible to us. That's the 'going dark' problem," Comey said."