In his explosive new book, A Higher Loyalty, fired FBI director James Comey denounces President Trump as “untethered to the truth” and likens him to a “mob boss,” but he also touches on other topics during his decades-long career in law enforcement–including his strong objection to the tech industry’s encryption efforts.
When Apple and Google announced in 2014 that they would be moving their mobile devices to default encryption, by emphasizing that making them immune to judicial orders was good for society, “it drove me crazy,” he writes. He goes on to lament the lack of “true listening” between tech and law enforcement, saying that “the leaders of the tech companies don’t see the darkness the FBI sees,” such as terrorism and organized crime.
I found it appalling that the tech types couldn’t see this. I would frequently joke with the FBI “Going Dark” team assigned to seek solutions, “Of course the Silicon Valley types don’t see the darkness–they live where it’s sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart.”
But Comey understood it was an unbelievably difficult issue and that public safety had to be balanced with privacy concerns. Toward the end of the Obama era, the administration developed a technical plan to show it was possible to build secure mobile devices and still allow access to law enforcement in certain cases. During one Situation Room discussion on the issue, Obama acknowledged, “You know, this is really hard.” Comey’s first reaction was “No kidding,” but he also appreciated the former president’s humility.
President Trump’s views on the issue remain unclear. During the FBI/Apple’s standoff over the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, Trump denounced the company and called for a boycott. But while other top cabinet officials, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have been outspoken about the need to “overcome encryption,” the president hasn’t said much on the subject.