(CNSNews.com) – FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that one of two terrorists who tried to kill people outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, in May sent 109 messages to a terrorist overseas the day of the attack, and the FBI has no idea what was said, because those messages were encrypted.
“In May, when two terrorists attempted to kill a whole lot of people in Garland, Texas, and were stopped by law enforcement, again, that morning before one of those terrorists left to commit mass murder, he exchanged 109 messages with an overseas terrorist,” Comey said.
ISIS sent two gunmen – Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi – to launch a terrorist attack at an anti-Muslim event on May 3, wounding a security guard before police shot them, the Associated Press reported. A third man - Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem - was arrested and charged with helping to orchestrate the attack. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack.
“We have no idea what he said,” Comey said about one of the gunmen, “because those messages were encrypted, and to this day, I can’t tell you what he said with that terrorist 109 times the morning of that attack. That is a big problem. We have to grapple with it,” Comey said.
During his opening statement before the committee, Comey said both tech companies and the FBI care about safety on the Internet. They understand that “encryption is a very important part of being secure on Internet,” he said. “We also all care about public safety. We also all see a collision between those things right now.”
Tech companies agree with the FBI that encryption is getting in the way of the government’s ability to have court orders effective enough to gather the information they need, “and we all agree we have to figure out whether we can maximize both of those values – safety and security on the internet and public safety.”
Comey said despite what some have said that it will “break the internet” or lead to “unacceptable insecurity” if court orders are complied with, “it’s not a technical issue.”
“There are plenty of companies today that provide secure services to their customers and still comply with court orders. There are plenty of folks who make good phones and are able to unlock them in response to a court order. In fact, the makers of phones that today can’t be unlocked, a year ago, they could be unlocked,” he said.
People also better understand that the government does not “want a back door,” Comey said. The government “hopes to get to a place where if a judge issues an order, the company figures out how to supply that information to the judge and figures out on its own the best way to do that. The government shouldn’t be telling people how to operate their systems.”