author photo
By Bruce Sussman
Tue | Mar 5, 2019 | 2:40 PM PST

We just left a session at RSA Conference 2019 featuring FBI Director Christopher Wray where the topic of encryption and law enforcement came up.

Discussing this topic in a room full of cybersecurity professionals is touchy, and we've certainly heard strong opinions about this at our SecureWorld conferences.

However, Director Wray did not hold back. Instead, he tried to paint a clear picture of what is at stake when it comes to the debate over data encryption.

Here is his view, in his own words:

"Just as technology has become a force multiplier for the good guys, it has become a force multiplier for the bad guys. Terrorists, threat actors, spies, criminals.

And what I know is that not a week goes by where I don't encounter basically across all of our programs some significant, sometimes insurmountable impediment from some of those same criminals, hackers, spies, etc. hiding. So, it's a public safety issue we're concerned about.

I'm well aware it's a provocative subject.

My first approach is not to try and go to war with anyone.

I get a little frustrated when people say we're trying to weaken encryption. To be clear, those are not our words, we're not trying to weaken encryption. We're not seeking a back door any more than I think critics on the other side are trying to weaken public safety.

But I do know that this is an issue that is getting worse and worse all the time, and every state and local law enforcement leader I deal with, every member of the intelligence community I deal with, every foreign partner that I deal with is raising this issue with growing urgency.

And so while we are a very strong believer in strong encryption—after all, cybersecurity is part of the FBI's mission, too—we are also duty bound to protect the American people and we have to figure out a way to deal with the problem.

It can't be sustainable and safe for there to be an entirely unfettered space that is utterly beyond fully lawful access in which hackers, terrorists, and spies can hide.

So what I would like to see since I believe the U.S. has the finest national security and law enforcement community in the world and the most innovative private sector in the world, I would love to see people try and come together to work for a solution. That's been increasing... in private conversations. From experts, cryptologists, etc., I'm hearing there are solutions to be had if people put their heads together."

Wray added that he views the InfoSec community in government and that in the private sector as symbiotic:

"We couldn't do what we do without the private sector, and vice versa."