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White House cybersecurity czar: 'We are certainly not asking for a back door'

  • The U.S. government is not looking for a back door into smartphones, said the White House cybersecurity czar.
  • Speaking at the Cyber Summit in Boston, Rob Joyce says the government supports encryption.
Rob Joyce (r) speaking at the 2017 Cyber Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Oct. 4th, 2017. Rob Joyce (r), White House Cybersecurity Coordinator, speaking at the 2017 Cyber Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Oct. 4th, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Rob Joyce (r) speaking at the 2017 Cyber Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Oct. 4th, 2017. Rob Joyce (r), White House Cybersecurity Coordinator, speaking at the 2017 Cyber Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Oct. 4th, 2017.

The U.S. government is not looking for a "back door" into smartphones and other devices, the White House cybersecurity coordinator said Thursday.

During a panel at the Cyber Summit 2017, an event sponsored by CNBC and the Aspen Institute, Rob Joyce said the government supports encryption.

It's "definitely good for America, it's good for business, it's good for individuals," Joyce said. "So it's really important that we have strong encryption and that's available."

Still, the government has a legitimate need for information, and "what [law enforcement is] asking for is for companies to consider how they can support legal needs for information," said Joyce.

"The other side of that is there are some evil people in this world, and the rule of law needs to proceed, and so what we're asking for is for companies to consider how they can support legal needs for information. Things that come from a judicial order, how can they be responsive to that, and if companies consider from the outset of building a platform or building a capability how they're going to respond to those inevitable asks from a judge's order, we'll be in a better place."

Joyce's comments suggest that law enforcement is backing off previous demands to have a permanent window into all mobile devices. Yet enabling smartphones and other devices with end-to-end encryption — a stated goal of many tech companies, including Apple — would make it impossible for companies to turn over communications data to law enforcement in any circumstance, since the companies don't possess the data.

This issue came to a head after the 2015 San Bernardino California, shooting rampage, when a judge demanded that Apple help the FBI unlock one of the shooter's iPhone. The FBI ultimately found a way to unlock the phone without Apple's assistance, so the suit never went forward.

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