During a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, FBI Director James Comey stood by his advice to put tape over computer webcams, calling it a “sensible” privacy precaution, on par with locking your doors at night.
The Hill reports Comey acknowledging he was “much mocked” for delivering that advice earlier this year, in part because the FBI was fighting a battle with Apple over digital privacy at the time (and ultimately “won” the battle by paying hackers to crack the secure data on the iPhone used by San Bernardino jihadi Syed Rizwan Farook.)
A selection of the mockery Comey endured can be found at the UK Daily Mail. The wittier examples note that Comey’s FBI has complained about the danger of giving consumers – and, by extension, terrorists – access to communications that cannot be cracked by law enforcement under any circumstances, and a webcam blinded with tape is an example of precisely such an uncrackable device.
The Daily Mail also gives the FBI Director a little support by noting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also tapes his laptop camera, judging by a photo he posted on Instagram in June.
Comey said at the CSIS conference that webcams in government offices are routinely blocked, and he puts tape over the lens on his own personal laptop.
“You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing,” said Comey, hitting on possibly the creepiest way to deliver that advice. Who does have “authority” to look at you through your webcam?
“It’s not crazy that the FBI director cares about personal security as well, so I think people ought to take responsibility for their own safety and security,” Comey said.
Engadget notes that webcam hacking is a very real issue:
If hackers get a hold of your webcam, they can easily turn your life into a reality show without your consent. Back in 2014, someone put up a website that showed live feeds from people’s CCTVs, baby monitors and webcams, while a hacker live streamed footage from people’s computers on YouTube last year. In some instances, hackers use the victims’ webcams to take sensitive photos, like what happened to Miss Teen USA 2013 Cassidy Wolf.
Of course, as the Daily Mail points out, we’ve also learned that the U.S. government is able to spy on citizens through webcams, and the FBI has used such tools in “terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations.” They even use the same phishing techniques as hackers, tricking unsuspecting users into clicking on links or attachment files that infect their computers with malware.