The Obama administration will not force corporations to decrypt communications for law enforcement, FBI director James Comey announced at a U.S. Senate hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The administration will, however, continue to put pressure on companies to enable some sort of backdoor for government search requests, the Washington Post reported. The decision was reached during an Oct. 1 Cabinet meeting, but only revealed on Thursday.
Comey added that the tone of FBI and Justice Department talks with tech companies has changed, becoming "increasingly productive" with "a lot of the venom" disappearing. An anonymous official quoted by the Post hinted that this is why the administration is choosing to forego the legislative route.
U.S. tech businesses are applying growing levels of encryption to customer data, in some cases to the point that they can't decrypt it even when served with a warrant — such as with Apple's iOS 8 and 9. Comey and others in U.S. government have complained that this could potentially interfere with criminal and terrorism investigations.
At the same time, many websites and platforms — including the American military's — are now coming under siege by both criminal and foreign government-backed hackers. The public has also become concerned about the overreach of the U.S. National Security Agency, which in 2013 was revealed to be conducting mass surveillance, sweeping in data from people not accused of any wrongdoing. Creating an intentional backdoor in digital communications might simply make it easier to discover exploits.