Attorney General Barr’s Anti-Encryption Efforts Aren’t Supported By Many FBI Officials

Attorney General Barr’s Anti-Encryption Efforts Aren’t Supported By Many FBI Officials

(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

When Attorney General William Barr speaks, he represents the DOJ and all the agencies it oversees. The problem is that Bill Barr’s recent anti-encryption agitating doesn’t reflect the views of the people he oversees. While Barr is trying to turn the public against Apple by suggesting it protects terrorists and murderers, FBI employees are worried his words and actions will harm them more than help them.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to people in the FBI and DOJ who aren’t convinced Barr’s doing the right thing by taking a hardline stance on encryption. [Non-paywalled version here.]

Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies they have worked hard to develop, people familiar with the matter said.

The bureau relies on close partnerships with tech firms in a range of investigations, with companies complying with legal requests for data and troubleshooting technical obstacles that agents may struggle with, current and former officials said.

Pushing Apple is unproductive. It damages relationships while gaining absolutely nothing for the DOJ and FBI. Apple has already given the FBI all the information it can pull from the Pensacola shooters’ accounts. Breaking encryption simply isn’t an option — not when it leads directly to reduced security for the rest of Apple’s customers.

Many in the FBI realize this. Barr just doesn’t seem to care. If Barr continues to push his anti-encryption agenda, he not only risks reducing cooperation from tech companies but also the trust of the people who work for him. Barr says Apple’s not doing enough to help investigations. Internally, the FBI disagrees.

Some FBI officials were stunned by Mr. Barr’s rebuke of Apple, the people familiar with the matter said, and believe the Pensacola case is the wrong one to press in the encryption fight, in part because they believed Apple had already provided ample assistance to the probe.

Barr’s ultimate goal may be another courtroom showdown. Others in the FBI would prefer precedent to outside help from phone-cracking companies. Barr has aligned himself with those officials. But the ones pushing for precedent seem unaware of how much collateral damage the FBI itself might suffer if things don’t work out the way Barr wants them to.

[Former DHS Secretary Michael] Chertoff said a court ruling against the Justice Department could limit access to widely available forensic tools that allow investigators to get into phones in some situations, for instance. “It’s not clear to me why this fight is advantageous to anybody,” he said.

Barr and those like them so firmly believe they’re in the right, they’re seemingly incapable of considering the negative consequences of their actions. Precedent that safeguards people’s phones against encryption-breaking efforts works against the government, restricting its access to outside assistance. But even if the FBI gets the precedent it wants, the nation as a whole will be less secure because encryption will be compromised severely and permanently. Barr and his anti-encryption buddies are willing to sacrifice everyone else’s security for their own ends. That’s not just selfish. It’s also dangerous.

Attorney General Barr’s Anti-Encryption Efforts Aren’t Supported By Many FBI Officials

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Published at Fri, 24 Jan 2020 15:45:32 +0000

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