FBI wants to make smartphones less safe, say Congressmen

hurd lieu split
Congressman Ted Lieu and Will Hurd say the FBI's idea to dumb down the security on phones is a terrible idea.

This is what two Congressman are telling the FBI director: We have computer science degrees, you don't, and you're making Americans less safe from hackers.

This is all about a raging privacy debate that's pitting federal law enforcement against Silicon Valley.

Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) let you lock your phone with a passcode. But the FBI -- to combat crime -- wants a golden key able to sneak into every American's cell phone and see pictures, messages and phone calls.

In a letter Monday to FBI Director James Comey, U.S. Representatives Will Hurd of Texas and Ted Lieu of California say the FBI lacks a technical understanding of the repercussions of its own proposal. An FBI "backdoor," as the agency proposed, is a terrible idea.

They made three points.

One, it forces American tech companies to make weaker, less competitive products.

Two, the same backdoor that lets in FBI agents can be used by hackers too.

And three, terrorists trying to avoid the FBI can easily download software tools that make their communication private anyway.

"We strongly, but respectfully, disagree with the FBI's proposal to force privacy sector companies to weaken the security of their products and services," Hurd and Lieu wrote. "As computer science majors... we strongly urge the FBI to find alternative ways of addressing the challenges posed by new technologies."

The FBI declined to comment on the letter.

The Congressmen's letter is the latest sign that politicians are starting to fight back against mass surveillance.

Until recently, technical issues like data encryption (which turns plain text into gibberish) were seen as obscure. But the threat of hackers -- and the rise of the government surveillance -- have brought them to the forefront.

Federal law enforcement continues to push for weaker privacy on devices, like smartphones and computers. The FBI director has said encryption of data shields kidnappers and pedophiles from cops. And the recently-appointed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch just joined the chorus claiming encryption hampers police investigations.

Meanwhile, computer security experts keep repeating that encryption is vital to keep technology safe for everyone. In just the last two months, two old anti-encryption laws have come back to haunt us, causing massive Internet bugs that put people at risk of getting spied on by criminals.

In an email to CNNMoney, Lieu explained why he brought up his technical background.

"As one of only four computer science majors in Congress, I have a responsibility to explain... a backdoor for [only] the good guys is simply not technologically possible," he wrote.

The NSA tried to hack your phone...but failed
The NSA tried to hack your phone...but failed

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