DoJ Likely to Fight Against Profit-Driven “Warrant-Proof Encryption” in 2017

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Dec 8, 2016
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The FBI and the Justice Department are increasingly relying on international collaboration and informal agreements to combat emerging cyber crime, DoJ says. In 2017, the Department also aims to bring legal reforms and target profit-driven “problems” that private companies are creating at home.

FBI and DoJ to bring more legal remedies, similar to Rule 41 changes

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of Department of Justice, Leslie R Caldwell, said the department is pursuing new legal reforms similar to changes made to Rule 41, which came into effect on December 1.

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“There are other laws that we look to fix and to change and to update. As I have said, most of these proposed fixes are very technical and very narrow and they are designed just like the Rule 41 change to address very specific issues that we have encountered,” Caldwell said.

The new rules allow investigators to get a warrant to hack millions of devices from a single judge, as they are now able to allow searches outside of their own jurisdictions. Before December 1, Magistrate judges could only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court. Critics argue that unprecedentedly expanding the US government’s hacking powers, agencies could be targeting foreign nationals too.

AG says the Department is further looking to pursue new legislative remedies next year. She didn’t elaborate which federal rules or changes the Department is targeting. But, she did mention “warrant-proof encryption,” which the Department will likely continue to fight against.

“Government’s responsibility is different than the responsibility of the private sector”

Caldwell spent quite a few minutes discussing how the private sector is trying to make it difficult for the government to do its job of protecting American citizens. She, however, insisted that the department is at the frontline of user privacy.

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“We recognize that the development of strong encryption is critical to cyber security and to counteract the cyber threats… But certain implementations of encryption pose an undeniable threat, and a growing threat, to our ability as criminal law enforcement to protect the American people,” Caldwell added.

The government’s responsibility is different than the responsibility of the private sector… No one really expects that the companies are going to take into account the societal interests that are at stake. That’s our job… And our ability to protect the American public shouldn’t be driven by technological evolutions… and decisions made by private companies for their own profit motives…

Earlier this year, the FBI had a long and tedious legal battle with Apple. The agency was pushing the tech giant to create a backdoor in iOS to make it possible for law enforcement to break into iPhones. The company, public, and several other tech firms joined forces to refuse weakening user security, as a backdoor could be exploited by sophisticated hackers and other governments.

Caldwell also talked about government’s increasing collaboration with international law enforcement agencies and private companies. “We have greatly increased our international cooperation with international law enforcement partners all around the world, including in countries that just two years ago we had no relationship with,” she said. FBI had reportedly paid over $1 million to a private security firm to break into an iPhone 5c – researchers later proved that the agency could have done so in less than $100.

While the DoJ will continue to strengthen its relationships with foreign agencies and security firms, critics fear that 2017 is likely to bring several invasive reforms to legal processes that the intelligence agencies are currently required to go through during an investigation. It is also expected that the tech companies will be pushed to weaken encryption.

Caldwell will leave public service before the President-elect’s inauguration on January 20.

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