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FBI Director Asks Congress to Pry Open New Spy-Resistant Smartphones

James Comey

James Comey: White House

Mobile device manufacturers have historically built into their phones a feature known as a “back door,” which enables the phones to be unlocked without the owner’s passcode. In response to rights-violating government surveillance programs that exploit such back doors, Apple has designed a new, spy-resistant handset, the iPhone 6, that doesn’t have a back door. When encrypted, the iPhone 6 can be unlocked only by someone with the passcode. Google, and likely others, will soon offer similar devices.

But some government officials want to keep the back doors in place.

In 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which enables law enforcement agencies to tap Americans’ electronic communications—such as phone calls, text messages, email and web traffic—by requiring telecommunications companies to build back doors into their phone lines and servers.

But government officials and bureaucrats naturally couldn’t have imagined the kinds of products and features that Steve Jobs and other entrepreneurs would soon create; a clause in the law exempts encrypted data stored on smartphones. The wannabe spies are now in a quandary.

Enter FBI Director James Comey.

In an effort to pry open the iPhone and any future encrypted devices, Comey has appealed to Congress to amend the law to require all encrypted servers and devices to include a back door. And, as one report puts it, regardless of what Congress does, Comey “is unlikely to drop the pressure, especially if tech companies keep putting a focus [in their advertising] on their privacy protections.”

Americans who are concerned about their privacy should take a moment to contact their representatives and demand that they reject Comey’s request for further rights-violations in this area—both now and, if he persists, in the future.

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