— The government can fight computer crime without
compromising Americans' privacy rights, the head of the
FBI said Tuesday, comparing government monitoring to a
police department that stations an officer at a
gang-infested park to make it safe for children and
families once again.
Director James Comey was in Milwaukee to visit local law
enforcement officers as part of an effort to visit all 56
of the agency's field offices. He met with reporters
afterward, taking questions about FBI efforts to target
violent crimes, stem the tide of heroin abuse and combat
also asked about cybersecurity issues, including the
Target Corp. data breach and recent revealing of the
Heartbleed glitch, which has caused major security
concerns across the Internet. He was asked how the
government balances fighting crime with respecting
said he rejected the idea that liberty and security can't
co-exist. He said security improves liberty by getting rid
of people who would do harm, leaving more freedom for
citizens who use the Internet for legitimate reasons.
Internet is "where children play, it's where our
social lives are, it's where our health care is, it's
where our money is. Everything is there — and so that's
where bad people come to get those things," he said.
"... The Internet is a dangerous neighborhood. We
need to be there to patrol it. And by being there in a
responsible, lawful, carefully overseen way, we can
enhance both security and liberty."
declined to answer questions about the National Security
Agency's massive surveillance efforts revealed by former
NSA contractor Edward Snowden, saying he was only in a
position to discuss his own agency's practices.
citizens are right to be skeptical of government power,
and that he, himself, shares that skepticism. He said
Americans should demand to know the details of government
activities: Are communications being gathered legally?
Were warrants obtained properly? Are the legal efforts
part of a legitimate criminal investigation?
said questions should be asked the other way, too. For
example, if someone criticizes the fact that the
government wants to be able to break encryption, people
should challenge that criticism.
would the world be like if the FBI, with lawful court
authority, could not break encryption and find someone
who'd kidnapped a child, or find a gangster, or find some
monstrous criminal because we could not break
encryption?" he said. "So what I urge people to
do is demand the details, demand answers from me and then
listen to the answers, and let's have a healthy
discussion. Because you should be skeptical."
however, often encounter a different reality. Questions to
local FBI press officials are often deflected with
statements along the lines of, "We can't discuss that
because it's part of an active investigation." Comey
was asked how that reality reconciles with his belief that
the public should demand answers.
drew a distinction between asking about specific
investigations and about general FBI policy. He said most
FBI press people are instructed to not discuss ongoing
investigations because doing so could help bad guys get
away or discredit innocent people who were investigated
and later cleared.
will never talk about a pending investigation for those
two reasons," he said. "(But) we'll talk until
we're blue in the face about our authorities, how the rule
of law is intrinsic in the way we conduct ourselves."