> "With good reason, the people of the United States -- through judges and law enforcement -- can invade our private spaces," Comey said, adding that that "bargain" has been at the center of the country since its inception.
Yes, but for specific limited instances and after obtaining warrants for each case.
What Comey/The FBI are actually demanding is our freedom to use encryption be completely removed so that they can perform warrantless mass monitoring on a national scale.
To be fair, encryption does change the situation a bit. It creates a world where warrants do not work, not unless you can also be compelled to provide decryption keys/passwords... and even then, if the penalty for the crime you're alleged to have committed is worse than the penalty for refusing to divulge your password, you'll keep your mouth shut. Also, penalizing refusal to provide information runs into another problem (besides 5th amendment constraints): what if you legitimately can't provide the information, but can't convince the judge that you can't? How many innocent but forgetful people will we jail?
So, this really is a new world for law enforcement. On the one hand, if encryption is banned or backdoored, it gives them unprecedentedly broad and deep surveillance, potentially routine global surveillance. On the other, if encryption is legal and routine, they find themselves simply unable to get information that in decades and centuries past they could have gotten with a warrant and a search of your home/office.
There is an imperfect historical analogue: Very high security safes. In the past, people might keep possibly-incriminating evidence in a safe. If the safe was really, really good this occasionally created a situation where police could not get in because they lacked the tools and skills. Courts ruled they could not demand the combination. But the situation with encryption is different for a few reasons.
First, it's different because high-quality safes are expensive and rare. making the problem correspondingly rare. Encryption is cheap and easy.
Second, it's different because it's a pain to remember to keep all of your potentially-incriminating documents in a safe. Encryption can be automated so it's applied to everything. No need to think about it. Indeed, security advocates (like me) encourage encryption of absolutely everything, all the time.
Third, it's different because while a safe can always be cracked given enough time and effort, proper encryption is effectively invulnerable. Barring bugs in implementation, or defects in key management processes (e.g. weak passwords), we have no reason to believe anyone can break current-generation cryptographic algorithms.
So there is a real question that needs to be debated openly, in public. We need to understand the consequences of ubiquitous strong encryption on law enforcement, and we need to weigh that against privacy.
And then we need to tell the cops "Sorry, privacy wins. And even if it didn't, the sort of police state we'd need to put in place to effectively restrict secure encryption is simply unacceptable". But we should have the data, and the open, honest public debate so that everyone can come to understand what is blindingly obvious to those who already understand encryption.