The national debate over the growing use of encryption on consumer devices is often framed in stark terms: Silicon Valley versus Washington in a bicoastal battle over privacy.
It’s easy to see why. FBI Director James Comey grabs headlines every time he says that law enforcement efforts are hindered by strong security features commonly used in popular apps and smartphones. His concerns took center stage in the Justice Department’s recent legal campaign to force Apple to help unlock an iPhone used by the gunman in the Islamic State-inspired San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack.
But inside the Obama administration, behind closed doors, the discussion is much more nuanced. A vigorous debate over the merits of widespread encryption is playing out, with many key government figures quietly advocating against any government policy decision or legislation that would force tech companies to weaken privacy-enhancing products to allow greater government access to communications.