The Need for Lawful Access

FBI Asks Technology Companies for Support in Pursuing Child Abusers, Other Criminals

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during a summit on Lawful Access held October 4, 2019 at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

FBI Director Christopher Wray discusses the importance of lawful access during an October 4, 2019 summit on the issue at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

At a summit at the Department of Justice today, FBI Director Christopher Wray shared cases where the support of technology companies helped law enforcement rapidly identify and save children being sexually abused. He followed by asking for the renewed and ongoing support of the industry in investigations into child pornography, terrorism, and other crimes.

Many technology firms have or plan to implement user-controlled end-to-end encryptions that will thwart the ability of law enforcement, with a court-ordered warrant, to find and prosecute people who document and share evidence of their crimes with others online. This will also end the ability of technology companies to monitor and then alert authorities to illegal, criminal, and violent content shared through their sites.

When it comes to child pornography, this is not a matter of a few images. There is an ocean of horrific videos and photos being shared and commodified online. Technology companies reported 45 million of these images in 2018, according to a recent media analysis. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children alone receives 18 million referrals a year.

Each image documents an act of violence against a child—some of them younger than 2 years old. Take a moment to consider what that number of images means for the children in your community, the child in your home.

“If we don’t take action and do something soon to address the lawful access problem,” said Wray, “it will be too late, and we’ll lose the ability to find those kids who need to be rescued. We’re going to lose the ability to find the bad guys who need to be arrested and stopped. And we’re going to lose the ability to keep the most vulnerable people we serve safe from harm. We just cannot let that happen.”

“We all want safe, secure, private data, but we also want safe and secure communities. And we can have both.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray

Wray stressed that the goal of what must be an ongoing, joint conversation is not to demonize the technology companies who provide a valuable service and owe their users the assurance of privacy and security.

“We all want safe, secure, private data, but we also want safe and secure communities,” said Wray. “And we can have both. I really do believe that.”

Steven Grocki, chief of the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, detailed how child predators use these online sites not only to share images and tips to avoid detection but to make the most deviant, violent behavior seem normal.

“We demand safety for our children in the physical world,” said Grocki as he showed an image of playground with rubberized safety mats. We don’t, however, bring the same standard to the digital world.

The FBI joins the law enforcement community in asking technology companies to envision a path to progress that encompasses the safety and well-being of children and communities.

“We’ve put some of the brightest minds in the country on the issue,” said Wray. “We’ve learned that it can, responsibly, be done.”