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FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington. Comey gave a stark warning against smartphone data encryption, saying homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could go free and “justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive.” (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

FBI director warns against cellphone encryption

WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey gave a stark warning Thursday against smartphone data encryption, saying homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could go free and “justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive.”

Likening encrypted data to a safe that cannot be cracked or a closet door that won’t open, he said the move by technology companies to protect user information in the name of privacy impedes a wide range of criminal investigations. He singled out the recent announcements by Apple and Google that their new operating systems are encrypted, or protected by coding.

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature. It’s a marketing pitch. But it will have very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at every level,” Comey said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Comey said public concerns that the government sweeps up all cellphone communications — or has access to all communications at all times — are unfounded.