Editorial: Unlocking the Box

Congress is going to have to weigh in on matters of privacy and technology in the wake of the Apple/FBI battle over accessing encrypted information. Not specifically in this fight, but more generally on the issue of balancing privacy and public safety.

FBI chief James Comey got a grilling last week in the House Judiciary Committee and the big takeaway, at least for this page, was his point about technology creating warrant-proof spaces where information on pedophiles and terrorists, as well as the rest of us, are inaccessible by law enforcement regardless of probable cause or imminent threat.

Obviously the Founding Fathers (and mothers, who go unheralded) didn’t anticipate smartphones, but surely they wouldn’t have approved an unbreakable lock that thieves and murderers could use to protect their ill-gotten gains.

But law enforcement saying, “Trust us not to abuse the power to unencrypt,” is not particularly comforting, either.

Comey conceded that once government was able to circumvent the self-destruct and delay functions, they could seek to use those tools on other phones.

As is often the case, there is no easy answer. It will be tough for Congress to come up with one, since even what would seem to be easy calls, including cybersecurity protections, tend to get mired in partisan muck.

So we all need to make it clear to our legislators that this is not something they can kick down the road or put off in an election year.

Comey said balancing privacy with protection is the hardest issue he’s faced in government. We don’t doubt it, which makes it all the more important that government face down that challenge and work with industry to resolve it.