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Pentagon chief Carter says gov't should not be given 'back door' to encrypted data

“I don’t think we ought to let one case drive a single solution,” Defense Secterary Ash Carter said at a tech conference in San Francisco.
By Doug G. Ware   |   March 2, 2016 at 9:02 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, March 2 (UPI) -- As the court fight between the U.S. Justice Department and Apple continues, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said he's opposed to government agencies being given "back door" access to encrypted information.

Speaking at the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Carter told an audience that he does not support the argument that law enforcement agencies should be given protected data -- such as that contained on a smartphone used by San Bernardino terror suspect Syed Farook.

"Just to cut to the chase, I'm not a believer in back doors or a single technical approach," he said, which drew enthusiastic applause. "I don't think it's realistic."

While Carter's remarks do relate to the San Bernardino case, it's not entirely an apples-to-apples comparison. Justice officials have repeatedly said they are not asking for a "back door" to Farook's phone. Instead, they are seeking a one-off software program that would disable a security feature on the device -- which would then enable FBI technicians to break into it.

Without the program, Farook's iPhone will reset itself and erase all its data if investigators enter the incorrect password too many times.

The FBI said it believes there could be valuable data on the phone to shed light on the Dec. 2 attack or point toward suspects other than Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik.

FBI director James Comey testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and argued that the showdown between Apple and the government will have a major impact on future domestic terror cases.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on December 1, 2015. Tuesday, speaking at a technology conference, he said he opposes government agencies being given "back door" access to encrypted information. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Apple, though, has resisted the FBI's requests citing privacy concerns for its customers. The company, as well as privacy advocates, also worry about the type of precedent it may set for future versions of the iPhone.

Apple also fears that complying in the San Bernardino case might impact many other, similar cases in which investigators cannot access protected information.

Earlier this week, a magistrate judge in New York sided with Apple in a similar case in which government authorities were seeking Apple's help in breaking into an encrypted cellphone.

"I don't think we ought to let one case drive a single solution," Carter said. "We have to innovate our way to a sensible result.

"There isn't going to be one answer. There are lots of different parts to this."

Carter warned that if tech companies and the government cannot develop a solution to the problem, the result might be an insufficient law "written by China or Russia."

"And you know what their view of data access and security is," he said.

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