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FBI’s Comey Says Americans Should Not Expect ‘Absolute Privacy’

March 9, 2017, 3:29 PM UTC

FBI Director James Comey has put to rest any hope of achieving privacy in the United States.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Boston College on Wednesday, Comey said that “there is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.” He added that everything Americans engage in, including conversations with members of the clergy and their attorneys, live within “judicial reach.”

“In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications,” Comey said, according to CNN, which obtained a video of his remarks.

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Comey’s comments come amid growing concern over privacy in light of a WikiLeaks announcement this week, which revealed how the CIA circumvents security features in popular devices—including smartphones and smart TVs—to obtain information on individuals around the world. The WikiLeaks data even suggests that the CIA has the ability to monitor communications over chatting programs that allow for encrypted communications, like WhatsApp (FB) and Signal.

The leak was the latest in a string of revelations made public in recent years about the ways the U.S. government apparently collects information on both Americans and people living around the world. Arguably the most impactful of those leaks came from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2013, detailed how the NSA has secretly collected information about ordinary Americans.

While Comey’s comments might not quell concerns over privacy, he did try to assuage fears by saying Americans should “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices.” He added that the government cannot peer into a person’s life “without good reason.”

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Comey, who himself has come under fire following his decision last year to reopen an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email in the waning hours of the 2016 presidential election, said that the FBI values privacy and security. He also said that he plans to remain on as FBI director and carry out the six-and-a-half years left on his 10-year term.

“You’re stuck with me,” he told the conference’s attendees.