SAN FRANCISCO—FBI Director James Comey has some phones—650 of them, to be exact—that he’d really, really like to take a look at.
Right now, the FBI can’t read the data on those phones, because it’s encrypted. For Comey, that’s a problem. In remarks to the American Bar Association on Friday, he made it clear this is an issue he intends to bring up before Congress next year.
While nothing other than the election will get politicians’ attention during the next few months, Comey told the audience that he intends to gather data about how the problem of encryption, which he calls “going dark,” is affecting his agents’ work. Then, he’ll present the findings to Congress.
“I love encryption,” he said. “I love it. It not only protects me personally, it protects the FBI from theft, and stalking, and threatening. It is a great thing for all of us. I also love public safety, and being able to solve terrorism cases and child pornography cases. We can have an informed conversation as a democracy about what to do about it. A democracy should not drift to a place.”
Comey began the talk with an anecdote about his desk. Right by the spot where there’s usually a small pile of requests for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, he keeps a much older piece of paperwork related to surveillance. It’s the application for a wiretap, sent to the US Attorney General in the 1960s, asking to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr on the grounds that his movement had a “communist influence.”
“It’s without date limitation, place limitation, and without any kind of oversight,” said Comey. “It’s a single page sent to the Attorney General. And then they were off, bugging and …