back to article FBI boss: 'Memories are not absolutely private in America'

FBI director James Comey has told a cybersecurity conference that any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer – and any of your memories are up for grabs should a court order it. Speaking at the Boston Cyber Security Summit, Comey said that America's founding fathers had set down that there is a …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    A real policeman once said

    "Police work is only ever easy in a police state."

    Comey (who is a political appointee) wants an easy life.

    F**k him.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: A real policeman once said

      And Comey is dead wrong. In the US, one of the first things every law student learns is that a witness who does not want to testify can always say "I don't recall."

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: A real policeman once said

        @man who fell...

        Such a witness can then be branded as unreliable by lawyers for the other side, thus weakening somebody's case. Actions or inactions have consequences.

        We live in organised societies that are more then just a bunch of selfish individuals. So individuals do not have absolute freedom. In common law states - Britain and USA - there is a common law duty to assist in mantaining law and order.

        1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: A real policeman once said

          @ Primus

          I've been in enough courtrooms to know that a witnesses incentives don't necessarily align with either side all of the time. While a witness (in the US) can take the 5th claiming the right not to self-incriminate, there's a whole boatload of witness questions where the 5th is clearly not applicable yet a witness might not want to answer. The only way out is to say they don't recall, as no one can prove they do recall, even if later in their testimony their "memory comes back".

      2. Steve the Cynic

        Re: A real policeman once said

        > a witness who does not want to testify can always say "I don't recall."

        Yeah, I remember the case of one witness (perpetrator, even) who famously said that. A certain Lt Colonel of the US Marine Corps, in the 1980s, by the name of Oliver North.

        Side note: My late wife was, at that time, enlisted in the US Air Force (I have had a complicated life. Don't ask.) She had a couple of observations on the subject of Olly North:

        * In the USAF, the coverage of North's testimony before the Congressional committee made popular viewing.

        * While the Air Force enlisted and the Marine Corps enlisted don't really get on well, it was clear that the USMC rank and file were deeply ashamed of one of their senior officers standing up in his dress uniform and putting on such a spectacle.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: What Olly North Said

          Well actually there were two hearings, both televised.

          Hearing one, a sweating North said he could not speak in public about his part in things.

          Hearing two, a spiffily dressed Col. North in his dress uniform (all he was missing was a bull terrier on a leash sitting by his feet) proudly announced that he would only speak in front of the American public.

          I know because I was very sick at the time and only had a TV with rabbit ears.

      3. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: I don't recall

        Worked for Reagan during the Iran Contra hearings.

      4. Stork Silver badge

        Re: A real policeman once said

        It also works in Denmark. A politician (Viggo Fischer) answered "I don't remember that" or "I do not recall that" (in Danish) 107 times during an investigation, in oder to protect his superior.

        - to which the judge remarked: What a shame such a young man already suffers from dementia!

        1. Roj Blake Silver badge

          Re: A real policeman once said

          There's also the case of Guinness boss Ernest Saunders who proved after his conviction for dodgy share trading that he really did have dementia. He was released from prison and his subsequent recovery was nothing short of miraculous.

          1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

            Re: A real policeman once said

            Yeah, clearly it's time to bring "enhanced" witness interrogation techniques to the courtrooms!

      5. Gigabob

        Re: A real policeman once said

        What - you don't mean just like all those Senators and Congressmen applying for Tumped up jobs?

    2. Bernard M. Orwell

      A question...

      ...for Mr. Comey.

      Given that you believe that no communication, verbal, electronic or otherwise, and in extrapolation no communicated thought, feeling or memory, is a protected characteristic of a citizens rights, what, precisely, is your agency protecting?

      If you dare answer with the word liberty once again then you need to do some hard thinking about what that, and similar terms, actually mean.

      In the interim might I suggest you get a big tarpaulin, sling it over the statue in the harbor (you've forgotten about it, haven't you?) and pop a sign on it that says "Out of Order" until further notice.

      Wake up, re-read the constitution, examine your history and remember who you actually want to be.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    failing at your job

    If you are a chief security officer and don't know your local FBI officer then you're failing at your job

    No, I don't believe so. As a security officer my job is to ensure that the systems are secure, not to play patty-cake with the political appointee of the week. If I have something to turn over or have to interface with law enforcement, then my contact is local law enforcement not Federal. It is up to the local guys and gals to determine whether the Feds need to be brought in - not me. If they do, the locals still continue to act as the information conduit anyways.

    Does he believe that the converse also true - that any FBI officer that doesn't know all of the private security officers isn't doing THEIR job?

    1. drunk.smile
      Black Helicopters

      Re: failing at your job

      Oh they KNOW you... you might not know that they're watching, but they are.

      *Cue sound of black helicopters emblazoned with large FBI lettering (also, tastefully in black).

      1. streaky

        Re: failing at your job

        Oh they KNOW you... you might not know that they're watching, but they are

        Evidence suggests if you're a technical C-level then at least one of NSA/GCHQ do and have considered if you'll be usable as a target in future or current operations for sure. Read the emails from the Gamalto stuff, scary shit for technicals. Always wear protection.

      2. el_oscuro

        Re: failing at your job

        "It’s the wild colour scheme that freaks me out. Every time you try and operate these weird black controls that are labeled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up in black to let you know you’ve done it."

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: failing at your job

      "If you are a chief security officer and don't know your local FBI officer then you're failing at your job"

      "No, I don't believe so."

      You should look at it as a case of "know thine enemy".

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm not even American but you have the fifth amendment so please tell this prick to fuck off.

  4. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge

    Er ...

    "... Comey said that America's founding fathers had set down that there is a right to privacy but that the government has a right to intrude in the name of security. It was part of a 200-year old "bargain of ordered liberty," he opined ..."

    "Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins." - Benjamin Franklin, 1737

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin, 1755

    1. Justaname

      Re: Er ...

      "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." - G Bush 2004

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Er ...

        Comey is living Bush's words - he is harming his own country.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Er ...

        a George W Bush classic - one of the most memorable streams of nonsense to come out of a head of government, but eclipsed since a certain Twitter feed made Dubya look like a thoroughly professional and insightful expert on all things..

    2. streaky
      Terminator

      Re: Er ...

      Freedom to speak or to assemble isn't a right to privacy. That's the fundamental problem here.

      US constitution doesn't guarantee a right to privacy. Not saying it's right but there's no explicit right recognised by the document. It's an enormous problem because if that right isn't guaranteed to US citizens there's no hope that the US government would acknowledge there's a right for non-US citizens.

      There is an implied and limited right that's badly codified for the modern world which is how they can get away with saying things like this because they are technically, legally, correct. These arguments have to be fought by statute law and by things like the right not to be searched illegally - the right to privacy in memory only exists to the degree that one's memory can't be illegally searched. Just wait till they can search your memory directly and a court can issue a warrant on that - it'll be a fun day.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Er ...

        What about the Fourth Amendment that prohibits unreasonable search and seizure?

        1. streaky

          Re: Er ...

          Fourth Amendment isn't a right to privacy in explicit terms. It's a right not to have your person searched or say a server that belongs to you - and a warrant can break through that right if it's legally gained. You asked this whilst I was still mid thought stream on my original comment, see the edited version where I covered this.

          The only thing that stands between that right and you being searched is probably cause, which is a very low bar. Lets not even get started on exigent circumstances in times of terrorist attack fears.

          1. Just Enough

            Re: Er ...

            The difference between memories and social media/phones/servers/email is that memories are not covered by the Fourth Amendment. The FBI cannot seize your memories, and while you can be compelled to divulge them, you always have the following options;

            - Say you don't remember.

            - Misrepresent what you remember.

            - Omit parts of what you remember.

            - Lie about what you remember.

            So it's a very misleading comparison. Memories are easy to keep private.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Er ...

              Until you're faced with a perjury charge. Remember the oath you must take before you testify: the truth, the WHOLE truth, and NOTHING BUT the truth. You lie (outright or by omission--half the truth, twice the lie as they say) at your own peril because they could have ways to back up their claims that don't necessarily involve you.

              1. nijam

                Re: Er ...

                > ... NOTHING BUT the truth

                That's a huge (sorry, yuge) amount of stuff to talk about. Most of us would die of old age long before we'd finished.

              2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Er ...

                "Remember the oath you must take before you testify: the truth, the WHOLE truth, and NOTHING BUT the truth. "

                I always found this a little odd. In practice one can only respond to counsels' questions. One of the tricks of a cross-examiner is to ask a question which framed to call for a yes/no answer but which, for the whole truth, requires a more discursive answer - which the cross-examiner then tries to suppress. I've also been in the odd situation of being, in effect, cross-examined by the side that called me in an attempt to make me put a stronger construction on my evidence than I considered reasonable.

      2. Eddy Ito

        Re: Er ...

        @streaky

        Freedom of speech also implies a freedom to not speak as compelled speech isn't free. It's one thing that always bothered me about the court system and its ability to compel a person to testify under threat of loss of liberty or fine. Further, considering how any such statements would, by definition, be made under duress I don't see how a jury can apply any real weight to that testimony.

        To your later point, you're absolutely right they will pull it directly from your head the instant they are able and likely without regard as to whether it does any damage to you or the memories or how reliable those memories might have been in the first place. I can see them going to great lengths to "enhance" the extracted memory to better understand in the same way they are always "enhancing" pictures in the cop shows.

      3. Chemical Bob

        Re: @streaky

        "US constitution doesn't guarantee a right to privacy. Not saying it's right but there's no explicit right recognised by the document."

        However, in Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution's First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual's "zone of privacy".

      4. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Er ...

        Arguably, the right to privacy is implicit in the constitutional enumeration of things the government may or may not do and the structure in which they may do it. That begins with the preamble and includes, notably, Article I, sections VIII and IX, and is reiterated and reinforced by the tenth amendment and, in the case of search and seizure, the fourth amendment.

        The legislature often has taken an expansive view of government authority, always for what is thought at the time to be a good purpose. The resulting laws have not always worked out well, or as intended; legislators are people, and people are fallible. Legal authority for search and seizure may exceed what some think reasonable, but it is not obvious that a right to privacy, however defined, should be considered absolute.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Gimp

      ""Those who would give up essential Liberty,.. temporary Safety, deserve neither...

      The full text was quite common on the signatures of emails on the 12th of September 2001.

      He and his ilk don't want a world free of crime.

      They want a world free of due process where they can read what they like, when they like and store it forever.

      This is the data fetishists manifesto.

      "Give me 6 lines from an honest man, and I will find something with which to hang him."

    4. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Er ...

      Yet the same Benjamin Franklin presided over the Constitutional Convention. In the process, the tradeoff between government authority and personal liberties was one of the core issues, despite the fact that explicit statement of some rights and liberties was deferred to the Bill of Rights.

  5. scrubber
    Mushroom

    Trust your government?

    Come back and talk to me when you've repealed the 1st, 5th and 14th amendments. Then maybe I can introduce you to the 2nd.

    Governments, and their hack appointees, are all well and good when they're on your side doing what you think you want them to do, but it's easy to get on their wrong side and every few years you might be passing that weapon of mass intrusion onto some incompetent man-baby to play with like a live grenade.

    1. FuzzyTheBear
      Happy

      Re: Trust your government?

      if only they would explode every now and then ..

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Trust your government?

      "Come back and talk to me when you've repealed the 1st, 5th and 14th amendments. Then maybe I can introduce you to the 2nd."

      They could just ignore the whole bloody think as "ink on a page". As for the 2nd, they'll see your guns and raise you a few nukes.

    3. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Trust your government?

      As a Brit, I like our way of doing things.

      THEY make the laws but WE decide whether to obey those laws.

      Germans have a very different attitude. Germans have said to me, the law is the law and should be obeyed. Somehow the USA has taken up that German position rather than the English one. Revolutionary animus, perhaps.

      1. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: Trust your government?

        You can't really compare the statements of regular German people you know to those of a US government apparatchik in terms of attitude towards the law.

  6. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court"

    So, do you think extending that to, "and corrupt law enforcement can hack to plant evidence for a quick conviction, or just when they feel like it" might be stretching the point a little?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Not really. More a logical extension. Civilization is overrated given the natural human tendency.

  7. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Damned right, Comey!! Widespread encryption is Snowden's fault!!

    And door locks are everywhere because of all the whiners who cry about how their house got robbed!!

    /sarcasm off

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Damned right, Comey!! Widespread encryption is Snowden's fault!!

      "In other news, a notorious leader of a wife-beating syndicate has stated that he blames the rise of martial arts defense courses for women on their ability to be able to speak and let others know they are being beaten. He proposes that all women should have an 'off' switch for their tongues."

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Damned right, Comey!! Widespread encryption is Snowden's fault!!

        Weren't women's tongues chopped off, among other things, in the distant past?

  8. JJKing Silver badge
    Facepalm

    FBI....Adults???

    He asked again for an adult conversation about the encryption debate

    Where in the FBI will they find an adult to participate in this conversation?

    1. MrDamage

      Re: FBI....Adults???

      The janitors office. They're the ones who have to pick up all the toys thrown out of the pram.

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Where in the FBI Federal Government will they find an adult to participate in this conversation?

    FTFY.... I'm not seeing any adult conversation from any part of it right now.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      >FTFY.... I'm not seeing any adult conversation from any part of it right now.

      I'm wondering if they meant a different kind of "adult" conversation.

      For how much longer can US federal agencies keep up the charade? The BBC reports, "On Wednesday, the US officials - who spoke on the condition of anonymity - told US media that the criminal investigation was looking into how the files came into Wikileaks' possession."

      How do they keep a straight face when they complain that telling people about security failures which makes them less secure, results in a criminal investigation? If the FBI and CIA know these problems, what makes you think the Russians and Chinese don't? What about all those TV's in hotel suites diplomats and industry executives might be frequenting? Did you sweep for bugs? Yes, but there's little which can be done about the hardwired TV which is always on... and listening.

  10. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    argh.

    I could go ranting on here.

    @Blofeld's Cat - thanks - those need to be left about to read.

    @ scrubber and AGDyer - again, clear points needed.

    @ ElReg -> https://forums.theregister.co.uk && upvote.

    Encryption. Effective. Real. Exceptionally difficult to brute force. This is an absolute requirement in this world, for *all sorts* of reasons.

    No, we DO NOT need a central key exchange where we can drop off a copy for (choose relevant TLA of the week) to have handy. There are in *most* countries *already* in place simple effective laws that can be used to acquire keys, *and* relevant, appropriate penalties to deal with those that cannot or will not hand those keys over. They may not be obviously stated or clearly aligned with "The Internet Age", but the basic principle of law exists.

    Outside of *that* Mr Comey (or whatever twat this month decides to jump on that bus), I have no intention of letting you at my personal inventory of "data".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: argh.

      Encryption. Effective. Real. Exceptionally difficult to brute force. This is an absolute requirement in this world, for *all sorts* of reasons.

      But it's also something that you don't want the bad guys to be able to hide behind.

      That's the dilemma facing us all. Law enforcement tends to be the ones going on about it because they're the people we pay to deal with the bad guys on our behalf. Most of us don't encounter the worst of nasties that the criminal classes throw at the world, the cops do.

      There's no good answer. It's an impossible problem to solve. It will most likely result in the equivalents of the Great Firewall of China being put up everywhere, and that's probably a bad thing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: argh.

        > But it's also something that you don't want the bad guys to be able to hide behind.

        The other problem with that is "the bad guys" can be very different depending on whos' point of view, can change (sometimes rapidly), and points of view can conflict.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: argh.

          There's also the fact whether the same person is good or bad to the same object can differ over time. After all, it can take just one bad day...

        2. HausWolf

          Re: argh.

          Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: argh.

        "Most of us don't encounter the worst of nasties that the criminal classes throw at the world, the cops do."

        Maybe not most but I can claim to be one of the ones that did, and that in the middle of a terror campaign (and partly funded by US citizens unchallenged, AFAIK, by their government).

        My main take-away from that? The importance of the presumption of innocence and due process of law. Why? Because they're some of the main things that distinguish between terrorism and a free, lawful society.

        Untrammelled surveillance, especially mass surveillance, is the antithesis of these.

        1. Blotto Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: argh.

          America is now a police state

      3. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: argh.

        I'd much rather have criminals routinely using strong encryption that the government is unable to break than to have a government with keys to everything. Street criminals or terrorists have nothing on the government (any government) in terms of being "bad guys."

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    ..."encryption, --- making life difficult for the FBI."

    Then, let encryption run thick, far and wide.

    No 'finger' emote?

    Thumb down will have to do.

    1. MSmith

      Re: ..."encryption, --- making life difficult for the FBI."

      It is statements like this that make me want to encrypt all my cookie recipes with the strongest encryption I can find. I then will include the files as an attachments in e-mails I send everywhere and let the FBI spend their time trying to decrypt the files.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "There are no evil people in this debate."

    Mr. Comey, would you like to borrow a mirror?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: "There are no evil people in this debate."

      If he thinks that, perhaps he should ask his counterpart in the CIA how many democratically-elected governments that organisation has toppled over the years, and how many people have been tortured by graduates of the School of the Americas.

    2. Chemical Bob
      Devil

      Re: Mr. Comey, would you like to borrow a mirror?

      Won't work. He casts no reflection in a mirror.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What part of the 5th Amendment doesn't this guy get? A judge can attempt to compel one to testify, one invokes the 5th and a stand-off ensues. Then, at worst, you get held indefinitely for contempt. I'm okay with that. You still won't get my encryption keys and good luck with the devices.

    So far, we are not legally required to have government mandated back doors. Perhaps that will happen, someday. Even should that come to pass, I can design and build my devices from scratch, and thus the stand-off would continue as I still won't give you access, Mr. Comey. What part of engineer don't you understand? Guess what type of systems get my attention these days?

    1. Ben Liddicott

      Not quite.

      Not quite: You cannot be compelled to testify *against yourself*.

      If you are given immunity from prosecution you can be compelled to give any and all testimony and punished if you refuse.

    2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Correction, you cant be compelled to testify against yourself in crinal matters

      In civil cases you can. And you can agree to testify against yourself as part of a plea bargain or immunity agreement.

      But in general court, no you can't understand the fifth amendment. You also don't have to answer questions from cops beyond your name, address, workplace, etc. In fact traffic officers will often ask you "Do you know how fast you are going, in order to get you to admit you were speeding. You can answer that with something like "I don't think I want to discuss that", and you are perfectly fine doing so.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone can be compelled

    I agree. Compel me. With a correctly issued court order.

    Until then - go to you closest Home Depot, take a stroll along the chainsaw department, chose the biggest one you can find and gently bugger yourself with it.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Anyone can be compelled

      And what if they decide to bugger YOU with it instead? After all, in the final analysis, the law is just ink on a page...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Anyone can be compelled

        "in the final analysis, the law is just ink on a page"

        No. In the final analysis the law is not just ink on a page. In fact it's not always ink on a page at all. It's our collective decision about how society should be run.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Anyone can be compelled

          Unless, of course, someone comes along who has a nuke and is not afraid to use it. When civilization runs into overwhelming force, it doesn't exactly turn out pretty, as many coups have demonstrated.

  15. Christian Berger

    People with integrity?

    Well that's going to be touch, as such people surely won't work for the FBI. It's like asking for glass of water that's both empty and full of water.

  16. MacroRodent Silver badge

    In the future...

    ... If direct brain interfaces ever get good enough to scan people's memories, Comey would think it OK to use that on anyone suspected of crime, or of just possibly having relevant information...

  17. Paul Hargreaves
    Paris Hilton

    > (Instagram) He said he likes that privacy, but would open up the account if compelled to do so under the law.

    Except, what would happen is that Instagram would get the secret order demanding access, he'd (as a citizen) wouldn't know because Instagram would be compelled to not tell him.

    OTOH, if the court did actually compel *him* to provide access, well that seems reasonable.

    And, not forgetting that all the TLA/FLA agencies around the world already have access via their dragnets.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Memories up for grabs?

    Does this mean security cleared people be required to have alzheimers pretty soon?

    1. gv

      Re: Memories up for grabs?

      Room 101 awaits.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is the same Comey

    Who interfered in an election? Potentially* aiding and abetting a hostile foreign power? Who is now probably regretting that**? Comey doesn't exactly come across as credible. At that level, reputation really is everything, and I'm not seeing much of a reputation here.

    * One would hope inadvertently.

    ** And who is now having to deal with an unpredictable boss prone to making completely unsubstantiated accusations about Comey's former boss?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: This is the same Comey

      "And who is now having to deal with an unpredictable boss"

      They probably deserve each other although I'd have expected his boss to have sacked him as untrustworthy by now. Maybe the only thing stopping him is the thought that finely tuned machines can't lose major components at quite that rate.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is the same Comey

        It is very rare for a president to fire the head of the FBI. They are appointed for 10 year terms specifically to prevent them from being a political appointment like the Attorney General. Obviously it is too late to fire him now that the cat is out of the bag about the investigation into Russian influence in the election also encompassing Trump campaign/administration staff talking with Russians, and the potential for collusion that would almost certainly lead to impeachment also being looked at.

        It would make him look extremely guilty if he fired Comey and tried to appoint someone new, likely insuring that a few republicans would go along with democrats in blocking such a nomination to prevent his appointee subverting the investigation - as well as pretty much guarantee an independent prosecutor would be appointed (which I think will probably happen anyway before long, as the deputy AG if/when confirmed can't be expected to conduct a fair investigation that includes his boss)

        In the long run Trump is probably better off leaving Comey in place, as he can claim he's not getting a fair investigation because the guy running it was appointed by Obama. His supporters will eat that up.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...]and Comey expects the competitive aspect to lead to improvements in skills and conviction rates."

    Once you introduce competition into law enforcement you encourage people to bend the law to get their brownie points and career advancement. After all - they just instinctively know someone is guilty - so fabricating some evidence isn't a problem - is it?

  21. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    "he issued a stern warning against companies hacking back against attackers"

    That'll be because they're probably the FBI.

  22. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    ???? Deadheads Rule and Reign with Havoc in Crises

    To beat these threats the FBI is trying to get better skills by recruiting from the outside. The Feds are looking for people with the right skills, physical fitness, and integrity. There's no point hiring someone who's a whiz at computing and fit enough to pack heat if they "smoke weed on the way to the interview," he joked.

    The old adage ..."If you can't beat them, join them" ..... springs to mind, and that would be creating a difficulty for the Feds with their anti-weed position, for it may very well be the stealthy enemy they do battle against both within and without, and which is running rings around them and enlightening the masses with their progress in oppressive and regressive shenanigans.

    Is it true that USAF pilots on active war duty are fed methamphetamine to function appropriately on missions/sorties?

  23. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    "Top of the list was nation state hackers, he said, followed closely by international professional hacking groups that worked for money"

    This is probably quite true, and he deserves some credit for putting terrorists at the bottom of the list on the reasonable grounds they have not (yet) achieved very much in 'cyberspace' actions.

    But those top two in particular would make mincemeat of any backdoor or key escrow system and he really needs to get that point. Corporate/organisation-wide master keys simply don't scale to the government's desire because (a) nobody trusts them now, and (b) it would make everyone's device less secure when its found, not just a few hundred in any one department.

    Defending the USA (or any other country's own) government and businesses interests means you need strong security, properly applied. Yes, it might make catching the odd smart criminal a touch harder, but it leads to less crime overall.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      "would make everyone's device less secure when its found, not just a few hundred in any one department."

      There are options between "a few hundred" and "everyone" that would resolve that particular issue. Considering those might be part of an adult debate. You could, for example, hold master keys per-person and per-use case on paper in a bank vault. The FBI would only be granted access to a specific person and a specific product by the bank when ordered by a court. That's close to how paper mail interception works. It would be possible for a few thousand to be compromised by a bank robbery, but not everyone.

      I'm sure you can pick holes in that, it's just one idea I had in 30 seconds, but there is scope for discussion *if* the tech community wants to.

      You can argue that privacy should be absolute - and that's a reasonable position too - but it's probably not one that the majority will agree to; insert obligatory "think of the children" argument here. Or even should the FBI be allowed to decrypt the communications of Russian spies? Even so, we have to engage with the debate and explain why, not just sling personal insults.

      The comments here disparaging the honesty of FBI agents aren't really helpful. Or grounded in evidence.

      (My downvoted stat is about to rocket!)

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        @Adam 52

        You have a good point that there are various options, but none are scalable for tens of millions of devices sold to the public and not managed by some competent trusted IT group.

        However, one approach that would answer some of the criticism is to make the cryptographic key stored in the chips in such a way that you could gain physical access by grinding down the package and using a scanning electron microscope to read it. The advantages of this approach are:

        1) You need physical access, so its not a remote hack that anyone can pull off. Thus there is no master key to be leaked or shared with undesirables[*].

        2) It is expensive and destructive, so you need a good targeted reason to use it. That puts it beyond trawling for evidence, and out of the reach of common criminals.

        3) The customers of said phones, etc, largely have put faith in not losing the device, and if lost, it is not in the hands of a highly resourced thief, rather than a company that might be pressured to share master keys with practically every government and police organisation in the world.

        [*] undesirables may vary, check your country and current political climate for the recent list.

  24. simmondp

    Assumes a "benign western society"

    "Any of us can be compelled – in appropriate circumstances"

    Action have consequences - if you decide not to tell (or decrypt) then based on the law of the land (or lack of it) you face the legal consequences - in a benign western society, that is jail for contempt of court.

    Lots of examples of journalists who have done just that.

    The problem comes when the society is not benign, then our problems are bigger anyway.

    However the solution is NOT backdooring the encryption....

  25. PTW

    There is a four word answer to all this.

    There is no need for debate so I don't care which side you're on. And please forgive my shouting, but thick heads and all that;

    PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK!

    You only make criminals of otherwise law abiding people, as real criminals ignore the law you fucking morons. But hey, think how safe the world will be [and good your stats will look] when you catch the otherwise law abiding breaking your ridiculous laws in an effort for some security from an actual threat.

    /rant

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: There is a four word answer to all this.

      Prohibition can work. You just have to make the penalty too steep for lawbreakers to accept the risk. Going to jail for making moonshine is one thing. What if you were shot on sight instead?

  26. Spacedinvader
    Gimp

    What I'd thought I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes

    "Any of us can be compelled – in appropriate circumstances – to say what we remember, what we saw."

    Advocating torture are we Mr Comey? Icon ->

    That's how he rolls

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, that's nice...

    While the US is not the last place on places to visit list it's probably at the bottom of western Nations.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agreed, it's not the absolute bottom of the list yet, but for me personally it's dropped way below the "bottom of western nations" position. Countries which have gone for full dictatorship (e.g. N. Korea) or are an active warzone (e.g. Syria) still rank below them, but that's about it.

      Pity really, I'd have liked to have seen the US some day. It can join Turkey on my list of places not to visit until they become civilised again (Turkey brings me particular sorrow, as an earlier visit to Istanbul was my favorite city break by quite a long way).

    2. Tom Paine Silver badge
      Mushroom

      That's certainly true, thanks to Trump and the nazis in the BCP, but if you you've got any more right to privacy in a European country or any other developed country anywhere in the world, you're either extremely ignorant or extremely stupid.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You think I'm stupid for thinking european privacy law is stronger than it is in america? Wow.

        It *would* be stupid to think that privacy in europe isn't under threat too, but I didn't see the point of getting into that.

        Also, most countries tend to treat rights as a universal thing for citizens and non citizens alike. Oddly, where rights are concerned America thinks it's OK to treat foreigners as subhumans.

  28. Shaha Alam

    <obligatory 1984 reference>

  29. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

    Um, Mr Comey, I do believe that at least priests are not going to agree with you.

    And, as far as blaming Snowden, that is just shooting the messenger.

    In a way, it is comical how these types keep trying the same argument, and blaming everyone else for not "playing along". It doesn't matter that you want a backdoor, Comey, what matters is that if we admit that you do get an encryption scheme that has your precious FBI/NSA/CIA/MI5/KGB-enabled backdoor, everyone in the world will migrate to an encryption scheme that does not have one.

    Of course, at that point I fully believe that you will shout at everyone to obey US law. Good luck with that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

      "In a way, it is comical how these types keep trying the same argument, and blaming everyone else for not "playing along". It doesn't matter that you want a backdoor, Comey, what matters is that if we admit that you do get an encryption scheme that has your precious FBI/NSA/CIA/MI5/KGB-enabled backdoor, everyone in the world will migrate to an encryption scheme that does not have one."

      Until you realize that the ones that don't have backdoors they probably can break almost trivially if they really need to. Not even post-quantum algorithms are all that safe, given the current research into it. Even the one-time pad has physical weaknesses that can be exploited (just catch the bloke with the pad in hand).

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

        Nonsense.

        As the CIA dump demonstrates, the move to PFS and end-to-end, properly implemented strong crypto has forced LEA and spooks to focus on pwning the endpoints (in the CIA case, with the assistance of physical access, which is /extremely/ expensive and dangerous to carry out and can obviously only be carried out against individual named targets and their immediate associates.

        If there was a break in AES, say, there'd be no market for 0day among spooks and LEA, would there.

        Kapish?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

          Unless they want to CONCEAL the fact they've broken AES. A little misdirection doesn't hurt covert ops, after all.

      2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Re: "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

        > Until you realize that the ones that don't have backdoors they probably can break almost trivially if they really need to.

        Even if that is or proves to be the case, it still requires them to do some work and commit resources rather than just using their backdoor to decrypt anything and everything at a whim.

        Having something that might have weaknesses (but also might not) is still better than something which might also share those weaknesses but also has a major weakness deliberately designed in.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

      "Um, Mr Comey, I do believe that at least priests are not going to agree with you."

      IIRC a tactic used by an abusive priest was to tell his superior in the confessional box. This apparently ensured that the superior could do nothing about it.

    3. Swarthy

      Re: "any communications – be it with your spouse, your priest, or your lawyer"

      That line threw a huge ("YUUUGE!") Bullshit flag in my mind. Given that conversations with your priest and lawyer are Privileged Communications, and are not available via warrant or subpoena. And whilst your mail/phone calls with your spouse may be subpoenaed, your spouse cannot be compelled to testify against you(and vice versa).

  30. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
    WTF?

    Fucking Hypocrite

    --he issued a stern warning against companies hacking back against attackers.

    "Don't do it, it's a crime,"--

    Only the CIA are allowed to do this without it being considered a crime apparently.

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Fucking Hypocrite

      Fucking Hypocrite

      --he issued a stern warning against companies hacking back against attackers.

      "Don't do it, it's a crime,"--

      Only the CIA are allowed to do this without it being considered a crime apparently.

      That's an interesting point of view. I've just the one question: what the fuck are you about? Are you objecting to the existence of police, LEA and intelligence services that are allowed to do things that are illegal for ordinary citizens? If so, give me a moment to strap in and then ... OK.... let me have it.

      WHY??

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: Fucking Hypocrite

        "Are you objecting to the existence of police, LEA and intelligence services that are allowed to do things that are illegal for ordinary citizens?"

        I was calling him a hypocrite. However, I do object in this instance because it will lead chaos, not order.

        "WHY??"

        Because "police, LEA and intelligence services" *are* "ordinary citizens".

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Fucking Hypocrite

          'Because "police, LEA and intelligence services" *are* "ordinary citizens".'

          I've always been of the view that the Police should have the same powers, no more or less, as any other citizen. I think I'm in a minority of roughly one! It would also require substantial financial investment.

          In privacy debates people often ask if you want to be private from your family, your colleagues, the Police or the spies; for a lot of people there's no difference between the groups.

  31. Tom Paine Silver badge

    How is this news?

    (1) how can this be news to anyone? (Has no-one heard of Scott McNealy?)

    (2) How and why can/does anyone think it's a bad idea that law enforcement and spooks have the ability to carry out covert surveillance? Do you actually WANT to be blown up or taken over by the next aggressive nationalist dictatorship or have major organised criminals acting with complete impunity? (Sure, tehre are plenty of crooks who should be in jail who aren't. Throwing away tools that enable the conviction of some of them isn't going to help, though, it's only going to make things worse.)

    *toc *toc *toc.

  32. The_Idiot

    OK - let's try....

    ... a small modification:

    "Comey said that America's founding fathers had set down that there is a right to (bear arms) but that the government has a right to intrude in the name of security. It was part of a 200-year old "bargain of ordered liberty," he opined ..."

    Now who thinks _that_ bird would fly very far in the US of A? And if it wouldn't, then why should his comment on 'privacy'?

    Oh, bugger it. If (or rather, when) the howling masses let this sort of stuff happen, we really are our own worst enemies. Sigh...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OK - let's try....

      He along with the fearmongering "terrorists and criminal illegal aliens are hiding behind every tree" wing of the republican party would say that the word "privacy" doesn't appear in the Constitution, while the phrase "bear arms" most certainly does.

  33. Gnosis_Carmot

    "and any of your memories are up for grabs should a court order it."

    Good luck with that! I'm famous among people I know for having CRS issues with my memory. Half the time I can barely remember what I had for supper the day before, and past 24 hours you better expect a blank stare.

  34. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    The irony of talking about needing to provide backdoor keys to aid in matters of state security after a megadump of documents from inside a state security agency is to rich for me.

  35. Tikimon
    Devil

    Proportional response and Biggest Active Threat

    Yeah, yeah, drug dealers, terrorists, pedophiles. Granted that these are nasty folks and we would like to curtail their nefarious activities. But how many of us or our families have been affected by such people? I know of some pedo cases, and every one was a family member or friend, not a stranger stalking from Facebook. As horrible as the 9/11 attacks were, it caused a few thousand deaths out of three hundred million citizens. We lose ten thousand people every year to DUI and another 300,000 injured. 300,000 sexual crimes annually and the shattered lives those often leave. If we're going to get all authoritative to protect people, let's focus on the things causing major problems for us all and not a handful of boogeymen.

    9/11 was in many ways the high point of world terrorism, and has not been rivaled in 16 years. In that same time, multiple government entities have violated our rights in every way they could find. The utter disregard of our rights is blatant and unapologetic. International business and relations have been damaged by the spying beyond any mad bomber's dreams or abilities. While not minimizing the harm caused by real pedos and such, I submit that we are being hurt more by our own governments than any batch of terrorists.

    So no Mr. Comey, you psychopathic asshole, we don't trust you and you are the biggest threat now.

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: Proportional response and Biggest Active Threat

      drug dealers, terrorists, pedophiles. Granted that these are nasty folks and we would like to curtail their nefarious activities. But how many of us or our families have been affected by such people

      More than you think, evidently.

      https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-sexual-abuse/sexual-abuse-facts-statistics/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Proportional response and Biggest Active Threat

      But then what happens when (not if) 9/11 redux happens? Only this time it's a nuke 20 miles over South Dakota? Or perhaps a new superplague farmed through weasels that makes the 1918 pandemic look like a warmup?

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He may be prepping to help Trump

    After all, it's much easier defending Trump if you can listen to the conversations of the government lawyers preparing indictments and criminal charges..

    Just another theory, and I deem Trump less bothered with the rules than Obama was.

  37. captain_solo

    This whole "memories are not really private" thing is hilarious, until it's not.

    How long until they will be able to remember it for you wholesale? With Total Recall?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Total Recall was more about false memories than reading them.

  38. Identity
    Boffin

    And don't forget

    the Fourth Amendment:

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    It has generally come to be seen that phones, etc. are today's equivalent (and more) of 'papers and effects.'

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: And don't forget

      "It has generally come to be seen that phones, etc. are today's equivalent (and more) of 'papers and effects.'"

      Correct, and so decided in California v. Riley. I have seen no reports that either local or state police, or the federal government have exceeded that limit since 2014*. That said, if any of those obtain a warrant "upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation" to seize and search a particular cell phone (or residence, or safe) the implicit right to privacy from the government in respect of the search target temporarily ceases to exist. The warrant may, for practical reasons, not be executable, but that is simply an example of the difference between authority and power; the government might not have the power to conduct a search, but in the circumstances described they have the right. The owner of a cell phone might have the power to deny the government access, but do not have the legal right and in some circumstances will be subject to punishment for refusing to allow the access.

      * The significant exception to this would be at US entry points, where different rules apply to customs officers.

  39. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Based on bad assumptions

    The main problem with the view expressed by this guy - that the government has a right to know everything we are doing and saying - is that in order to be a reasonable view you must assume that the government is benevolent toward all it s citizens. That the government always acts in the best interests of its citizens. That all laws are fair and just, and there is never a valid reason for anyone to break any law.

    Unfortunately I do not know of any government where a single one of those assumptions is even close to being true. The relationship between government and citizen is far closer to the relationship between farmer and livestock than it is to parent/child. Obviously a farmer will look after his livestock and so it might appear to the sheep that the farmer is a benevolent altruist.

    1. Emperor Zarg

      Re: Based on bad assumptions

      I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Governments need to stop acting like the enemy.

      They are perpetrating massive acts of hostility against all of us and fail to comprehend why this is wrong, unjustified and unreasonable (or maybe it's the population that fail to comprehend). Any rational person will take steps to protect him/herself from such hostile actors.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Based on bad assumptions

      Comey seems to have claimed that "under appropriate circumstances" the government has the right to demand that people answer questions. He did not express a view that the government has a right to know everything we are doing and saying, at least as reported in the article. That is far from the same thing, and everything that logically follows from it is pretty much nonsense, including likening the relation between government and citizen to that between a farmer and his livestock. The fact is that the main complaint by a great many, both lefties and Trumpists, is that the (US) government is not enough like the farmer looking after his sheep.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really??

    How do the courts or anyone else plan to obtain those memories? "I don't really that". Until mind readers read my memories or someone develops a device that can download load memories, good luck with trying to obtain anyone's memories...

  41. fidodogbreath Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Correction

    ...there is a no actual right to privacy but that because the government has a right to intrude in the name of security...

    FTFY

  42. МихаилC

    Pedophilia is a capital offense to God. That said you guys do carelessly prosecute a lot of cases, and apparently hacking someone's computer to leaving kiddie porn is apparently a thing, as are malware based storage networks for the stuff. God expects better due diligence from you, before you lock them away for a life-time.

    'Smoked weed on the way'? The 'war on' everything is designed to fail from the start. The federal government was never vested the authority to ban a plant. It is exceedingly harmful to the society that you-all spend 60 billion or so a year, and incarcerate a fraction of Babylon's population on trumped up drug charges. Might as well make masturbation a crime. Name any of these that have succeeded at all:

    War on Drugs

    War on (Thought)Crime

    War on Education

    War on Poverty

    When I first saw this article it makes me think there are advances in reading memories that those fools are hoping to use, so they can play God, and be yet more arrogant. The Elohim said of you, and

    God says of Babylon 'The haughtiness of the terrible I will lay low'. Though I don't approve of their methods, or half of their arguments, this does fit the terrorists, as well as the Russians:

    I have also called My mighty ones for My anger—

    Those who rejoice in My exaltation.”

    4 The noise of a multitude in the mountains,

    Like that of many people!

    The noise here is missiles, aircraft, or the like (drones etc.)

    Destruction is coming to Babylon, not war. It will come as a break in a high wall:

    "Therefore this iniquity shall be to you Like a breach ready to fall, A bulge in a high wall, Whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant."

    Suddenly, without warning, without escape, or survival, also, from above.

    Pedophilia, so are the catholic churches archives encrypted then? Or where was your due diligence regarding them. If you are serious about it as you claim, then God demands that you re-open those cases, and prosecute the priests of Babylon.

    It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

    Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.

    The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore.

    Note how Babylon is destroyed? It specifically calls out pedophilia as a reason (millstone, thrown into the sea).

    If you happen to be a pedophile reading this, understand that all you have harmed or offended need to forgive you, as well as Christ. If any do not, you will dwell in the fire.

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