James B. Comey P ’16, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), addressed a packed auditorium in Rosse Hall on Wednesday night, where he discussed issues ranging from data encryption to terrorism. Comey delivered the keynote address for this year’s Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) conference titled “The Expectation of Privacy.”
Comey began by saying he values privacy, but asked the audience how they, as citizens, could have a more productive conversation on issues concerning technological privacy.
“I don’t want anyone looking at my stuff either,” Comey said. “But if it was the phone of someone who abducted your sister, or the phone of a suicide bomber … at least it should change how we have a conversation about it.”
Comey went on to speak about the FBI’s feud with Apple over gaining access to the iPhone of Rizwan Farook, a terrorist involved in the San Bernardino shooting earlier this year, during which 16 people were shot and killed by Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, at the Inland Regional Center in California. Comey stressed the FBI was not trying to set a precedent by obtaining a court order in an attempt to force Apple to write software for the killer’s iPhone, which would have prevented the data from being erased after ten failed attempts to unlock the phone. Apple fought the court order, but the FBI dropped the case after gaining access to the shooter’s phone by consulting with an outside source. Comey also said claims the FBI would use this software on U.S. citizens stemmed from “slippery-slope” arguments, not founded by factual data.
Comey asked the audience to keep an open mind on issues concerning the FBI’s role in data encryption and technological privacy, and not to cling to their assumptions “like a life-raft in a storm.”
After his speech, Comey took questions from audience members, who pressed him on topics such as the idea of privacy as a human right and the ethics of the FBI breaching private data.
Henry Burbank ’16 enjoyed the address. “It’s always a gift to hear from someone who’s infinitely invested in the issues we are talking about, and who makes decisions everyday that affect us,” Burbank said.