Playing down a narrative of an ongoing "crypto-war" between the government and the private sector, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that shared security values between the two groups mean they should be working together.
But Comey said the source of the tension between tech companies and federal law enforcement—the proliferation of strong encryption standards that make it difficult or impossible to read intercepted communications—could be addressed if only the business community made a real effort to develop new encryption technologies.
"I've heard from a lot of folks that it's too hard, and my reaction to that is: Really? Have we really tried? Have we really tried?" Comey said at an open meeting of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Technology and security experts have said that building in access to encrypted communications would invite intruders. If a tech company creates a "back door" to allow law enforcement to read decrypted data, malicious hackers will also be able to find and exploit it, they say.
Communication services like Apple's iMessage are encrypted end to end. That means the data sent across Apple's servers is scrambled—only the intended recipient of a message is able to decrypt it. Because Apple does not keep its users' encrypted messages, the company recently rebuffed a Justice Department request to turn over the contents of an iMessage conversation to law enforcement in real time.