Cybersecurity

Wyden grills FBI chief on encryption

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) election night 2016 shutterstock image photo credit: Diego G Diaz 

Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden on election night 2016. (Photo credit: Diego G. Diaz/Shutterstock.com)

At a Feb. 13 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) confronted FBI Director Christopher Wray over calls from the bureau and the Department of Justice to give law enforcement greater access to locked and encrypted devices.

"I don't pretend to be an expert on [cryptography], but I think there is a clear consensus among experts in the field against your position to weaken strong encryption," Wyden said.

Wray told Wyden he didn't support "weaker encryption" but rather that tech companies and law enforcement should work together address the problem.

After the hearing, Wyden released a letter signed by four cryptography experts -- Bruce Schneier, Martin Hellman, Steven Bellovin and Paul Kocher -- backing the claim that "responsible encryption" as described by Wray and other officials is essentially impossible. They want the FBI to provide more technical details to support its request.

"Just because a non-technical person believes such that such a system can be developed does not make it so," they wrote.

Wray said in a Jan. 8 speech that he doesn't "buy the claim that it's impossible" to achieve the goal of providing law enforcement access to encrypted communications without weakening user security.

Wyden asked Wray in a Jan. 25 letter for a list of any cryptographers he had consulted with on  "this ill-informed policy proposal."

In their letter, the cryptographers suggested that "instead of vague proposals that sound reasonable yet lack details, the FBI needs to present the cryptographic research community with a detailed description of the technology that it would like implemented" so experts can examine the tradeoffs in an open and transparent way.

A  Wyden spokesperson told FCW a day after the hearing that the FBI "has not cited any experts or answered Wyden's question regarding experts that support weakening encryption."

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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