Brennan: Government not equipped to handle ‘digital domain’

The mechanisms by which the U.S. government crafts policy and laws does not correlate with the challenges presented by the public’s growing dependence on technology, CIA Director John Brennan told a congressional committee Thursday.

The mechanisms by which the U.S. government crafts policy and law don’t measure up to the challenges presented by the public’s growing dependence on digital technology, CIA Director John Brennan told a congressional committee Thursday.

Brennan touched on topics such as the fight against ISIS and encryption, including voicing support for a commission that would examine how the government should handle its authority with respect to encryption.

“A congressional commission on this issue is something that really could do a great service,” Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “There needs to be an understanding between the private sector and the government about what our respective roles and responsibilities are going to be and be able to find some kind of solution that’s able to optimize what it is we’re all trying to achieve.”

Warner, D-Va., along with Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, introduced a bill in February that would set up a national commission on encryption. That bill, along with a bill from Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., that would require companies to grant law enforcement access to encrypted technologies with a court order, have marked a contentious debate between the government and technology community over backdoors being placed into encryption for investigative purposes.


Burr, whose bill has not gained much support on Capitol Hill, said he hopes to move past the bickering in order to find common ground on the issue.

“This feud between the tech companies and the intelligence companies and law enforcement has to stop,” Burr said.

“When the vice chairman and I committed to a solution on encryption, it was not with the belief that we were smarter than anybody else. It’s that we understood what was at stake,” Burr added. “The American people need to understand [that] for our agencies to prevent and protect them, that comes with a price. That debate is what that cost might be and what we are willing to accept.”

Later Thursday, the House voted to block an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the government from asking private companies to build backdoors into their encrypted products. That practice is exactly the type of mandate Sen. Ron Wyden told Brennan he would like to avoid.

“I don’t want to go backwards on digital security,” Wyden said. “That’s what happens if the government is build backdoors into digital products.”


Brennan said the conversation is imperative given that more devices will be coming online in the years to come, particularly those related to the Internet of Things.

“The digital domain is a new domain,” Brennan said. “I do not believe our legal frameworks as well as our organizational structures and our capabilities are yet at the point of being able to deal with the challenges in the digital domain that we need to have in the future.”  

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Greg Otto

Written by Greg Otto

Greg Otto is Editor-in-Chief of CyberScoop, overseeing all editorial content for the website. Greg has led cybersecurity coverage that has won various awards, including accolades from the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Greg worked for the Washington Business Journal, U.S. News & World Report and WTOP Radio. He has a degree in broadcast journalism from Temple University.

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