Barr Cybersecurity

U.S. Attorney General William Barr addresses the International Conference on Cyber Security, hosted by the FBI and Fordham University, on Tuesday at Fordham University in New York.

NEW YORK — Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that increased encryption of data on phones and computers and encrypted messaging apps are putting American security at risk.

Barr’s comments at a cybersecurity conference mark a continuing effort by the Justice Department to push tech companies to provide law enforcement with access to encrypted devices and applications during investigations.

“There have been enough dogmatic pronouncements that lawful access simply cannot be done,” Barr said. “It can be, and it must be.”

The attorney general said law enforcement is increasingly unable to access information on devices, and between devices, even with a warrant supporting probable cause of criminal activity.

Barr said terrorists and cartels switch mid-communication to encrypted applications to plan deadly operations. He described a transnational drug cartel’s use of WhatsApp group chat to specifically coordinate murders of Mexico-based police officials.

Gail Kent, Facebook’s global public policy lead on security, recently said that allowing the government’s ability to gain access to encrypted communications would jeopardize cybersecurity for millions of law-abiding people who rely on it. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.

“It’s impossible to create any backdoor that couldn’t be discovered, and exploited, by bad actors,” Kent said.

Allowing government access to encrypted devices also wouldn’t prevent people from switching to any new services that may crop up around the world that U.S. agencies can’t access, Kent said.

Encrypted communications are ones that are only available to users on either end of the communications. The increasing use of this technology has long been coined by the Justice Department as the “going dark” problem.

Barr’s remarks also acknowledged the need for encryption to ensure overall cybersecurity that has enabled people to bank relatively securely online and engage in e-commerce.

Barr said that to date, law enforcement in Garland, Texas, have been unable to access 100 instant messages sent between terrorists who carried out an attack there in May 2015.