The expanding options for communicating over the Internet and the increasing adoption of encryption technologies could leave law enforcement agents “in the dark” and unable to collect evidence against criminals, the Director of the FBI said in a speech on Thursday.

In a post-Snowden plea for a policy more permissive of spying, FBI Director James B. Comey raised the specters of child predators, violent criminals, and crafty terrorists to argue that companies should build surveillance capabilities into the design of their products and allow lawful interception of communications. In his speech given at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, Comey listed four cases where having access to a mobile phone or laptop proved crucial to an investigation and another case where such access was critical to exonerating wrongly accused teens.

All of that will go away, or at least become much harder, if the current trend continues, he argued.

“Those charged with protecting our people aren’t always able to access the evidence we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism even with lawful authority,” Comey said in the published speech. “We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications and information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so.”

Following the leak of classified documents by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the public has become increasingly wary of overreaching surveillance by government agencies. Anti-spy technology has become much more popular — gaining popular support on Kickstarter, for example — and recently Apple and Google both announced that encryption would be the default for their mobile operating systems.
FBI Director to citizens: Let us spy on you | Ars Technica