FBI Director James Comey charged on Wednesday that there is no longer “absolute privacy” in the United States — the government could one day request and access the details of just about any conversation.
“Even our memories aren’t private,” Comey told a panel in Boston. “Any of us can be compelled to say what we saw. In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any of us to testify in court on those private communications. There is no place in America outside of judicial reach.”
Comey continued, “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”
He elaborated that he believes this includes speech which has generally been seen as constitutionally protected.
“Even our communications with our spouses, with our clergy members, with our attorneys are not absolutely private in America,” he said. “In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications.”
Comey’s comments come after a tumultuous past year in American life, one replete with presidential allegations of wiretapping and the publishing of communications from top Democratic Party officials that some say tipped the election to Donald Trump. On Monday, Former senior National Security Advisor Bill Binney charged that new technology has allowed the government to access and archive just about any conversation, including ones featuring the president, consistent with explosive allegations raised by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
But Comey defended some measure of privacy.
Americans “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices,” he said.
“It is a vital part of being an American. The government cannot invade our privacy without good reason, reviewable in court… We all value privacy. We all value security. We should never have to sacrifice one for the other… Our founders struck a bargain that is at the center of this amazing country of ours and has been for over two centuries,” the director explained.
Comey’s role in the election was controversial, with some alleging that his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton cost the Democrats victory in November. Despite all the rancor surrounding him, Comey told the Boston audience he’s not going anywhere.
“You’re stuck with me for another 6 ½ years,” Comey said. FBI directors traditionally serve 10 years. Comey, a Republican, was appointed by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2013.