FBI Director to Americans: Let Us Spy on You, Please


The news: This feels like a misguided attempt by an ex to win back a jilted lover. They want you back, but they won't fix the issues that led to the breakup in the first place.

In a rather awkward speech at the Brookings Institution on Thursday, FBI Director James B. Comey delivered what is essentially the bureaucratic equivalent of "Get Her Back," begging the American public to let it be spied on once again.

"Those charged with protecting our people aren't always able to access the evidence we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism even with lawful authority," Comey said at the event. "We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications and information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so."

And clearly, it's us who have changed, not them. "Perhaps it's time to suggest that the post-Snowden pendulum has swung too far in one direction — in a direction of fear and mistrust. It is time to have open and honest debates about liberty and security," Comey added.

There's a reason the FBI is getting worried. In the past couple of months, both Apple and Google have announced they will include default encryption technology in their mobile operating systems. But according to Comey, they're just giving in to the mob.

"Both companies are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand," he said. "But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn't go to without careful thought and debate as a country."

But perhaps the better question for Comey here is: Why is there a "market demand" for increased privacy in the first place? Short answer: you guys.

"Whether the FBI calls it a front door or a back door, any effort by the FBI to weaken encryption leaves our highly personal information and our business information vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments and criminals," Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ars Technica. "We applaud tech leaders like Apple and Google that are unwilling to weaken security for everyone to allow the government yet another tool in its already vast surveillance arsenal. We hope that others in the tech industry follow their lead and realize that customers put a high value on privacy, security and free speech."

You want us back? Work on yourself first. As Comey points out in his speech, the public perception of government surveillance has changed a lot since Edward Snowden's National Security Agency leaks. But that's ultimately on the government's shoulders, not on the public's. Government agencies can't fault the American public for losing trust in them when they were the ones whose behavior lost that trust in the first place.

Showing up on our doorstep with dollar-store flowers isn't going to cut it this time. Make some actual changes and show us. Maybe we'll reconsider.