FBI Director James Comey warned that Americans should not have expectations of “absolute privacy” after the disclosure of a range of hacking tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America; there is no place outside of judicial reach,” Comey said at a Boston College conference on cyber security on Wednesday. He made the remark as he discussed the rise of encryption since 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about sensitive US spy practices, CNN reported. The Federal Bureau of Investigation chief also said that he planned to finish his term leading the agency, CNN reported.
“Even our communications with our spouses, with our clergy members, with our attorneys are not absolutely private in America… In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications,” Comey said.
But, he also said Americans “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices”.
“It is a vital part of being an American. The government cannot invade our privacy without good reason, reviewable in court,” Comey said.
Fresh concerns over personal privacy arose after WikiLeaks published what it called the first tranche of a larger body of data about CIA hacking, which it says was provided to the organisation by a whistleblower seeking to trigger a debate on the issue.
The CIA said it would not comment on the authenticity of the WikiLeaks material but issued a statement pointing out it was legally prohibited from using such surveillance tools in the US.
“The CIA’s mission is to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries. It is CIA’s job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defence in protecting this country from enemies abroad. America deserves nothing less,” the statement said.
There is anxiety in Washington that the WikiLeaks release of what it called its “Vault 7” trove of data would make the hacking tools available to criminal or terrorist organisations, or foreign governments, according to reports.
Comey said that in the last four months of 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lawfully gained access to 2,800 devices recovered in criminal, terrorism and counter-intelligence investigations and the agency was unable to open 43 per cent of those devices.
Americans’ desire for privacy and security should never be viewed as incompatible, he said.
“We all value privacy. We all value security. We should never have to sacrifice one for the other,” Comey said.
“Our founders struck a bargain that is at the center of this amazing country of ours and has been for over two centuries.”