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FBI director calls ‘dark’ devices a hindrance to crime solving

WASHINGTON — The director of the FBI, James B. Comey, said Thursday that federal laws should be changed to require telecommunications companies to give law enforcement agencies access to the encrypted communications of individuals suspected of crimes.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Comey warned that crimes could go unsolved if law enforcement officers cannot gain access to information that technology companies like Apple and Google are protecting using increasingly sophisticated encryption technology.

“Unfortunately, the law hasn’t kept pace with technology, and this disconnect has created a significant public safety problem,” he said.

Comey said that he was hoping to spur Congress to update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, a 1994 law that requires phone companies to build into their systems an ability to immediately begin wiretapping if presented with a court order.

Online services like Gmail or Facebook are not covered by that law. As people have increasingly communicated over the Internet instead of by phone, the FBI has been pushing since at least 2010 to expand the law so that they would be covered by the same mandate, warning that its ability to carry out wiretap orders is “going dark.”

One aspect of the FBI’s concern has been startup companies, many of which have not built intercept capabilities into their products. That can cause delays when they receive an order. For their part, the startups say that building in such capabilities is costly and could attract malicious hackers.

—Michael S. Schmidt and Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times

Serbia honors Putin while keeping an eye on ties to the We

PARIS — President Vladimir Putin of Russia arrived Thursday in Belgrade to commemorate the city’s liberation by the Red Army during World War II, in a visit that underlined Moscow’s growing attempt to assert its influence in the western Balkans, even as Serbia tries to link itself inextricably to the West without losing Russia’s support.

Snipers stood guard on rooftops and thousands of spectators chanted, “Putin! Putin!” as Putin was awarded the Order of the Republic — Serbia’s highest honor — by President Tomislav Nikolic at a military parade. It included a procession of 3,000 Serbian soldiers and air acrobatics by Serbian and Russian fighter jets.

As the West and Russia are caught in Cold-War-style tensions over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, Serbia has tried to find a precarious balance, declining to join the West’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine while vowing that it remains committed to joining a European Union that is seeking to shun Putin. The U.S. ambassador to Serbia was conspicuously absent from the ceremony.

Belgrade’s political schizophrenia was on display Thursday, along with a pomp and circumstance that Ivo Viskovic, a professor of political science at Belgrade University and former ambassador to Germany, said Belgrade had not witnessed since the heyday of the former Yugoslavia before the death of President Josip Broz Tito.

Addressing Putin, Nikolic pledged Serbia’s commitment to Russia, its longtime ally, while Prime Minister Alexander Vucic vowed that Serbia would not sway from its “European Union path.”

“Serbia will not compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia,” Nikolic was quoted as saying by B92, a leading Serbian broadcaster, after he and Putin laid wreaths at a memorial in Belgrade to Soviet soldiers.

—Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times

India’s prime minister announces reforms to increase job creation

MUMBAI, India — Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced labor reforms Thursday, simplifying employment rules and aiming to give a lift to manufacturing and job creation.

“For the success of ‘Make in India,’ ease of doing business should be given priority,” said Modi, who was elected on a platform of development and job creation.

Cumbersome labor regulations are among the biggest hurdles to setting up manufacturing in India, which fell to 134th place this year in a World Bank index of countries for doing business.

Modi said that there would be greater accountability in the inspections of businesses, which say inspectors with discretionary powers routinely harass them.

The Labor Ministry will also set up a website to allow companies to file a single report for compliance with 16 labor laws. Modi said those initiatives were in line with his government’s motto of “minimum government and maximum governance.”

At the same time, Modi emphasized that labor issues needed to be seen from the perspective of workers and not industrialists. He announced a program for skills development, in which the Labor Ministry will finance the first two years of training for apprentices in manufacturing units.

He also promised easier portability of payroll-financed pension savings when people change jobs and move between states by using a universal account number. Because of the difficulty of transferring money, about $4.4 billion in such funds lies in inoperative accounts, where workers cannot obtain access.

“I want to return the money to those poor people,” Modi said.

The announcements were greeted positively by Indian business interests, which have been lobbying for a change in labor regulations.

“This is something industry would welcome very strongly and has been awaiting for a long time,” said Bidisha Ganguly, chief economist at the Confederation of Indian Industry.

—Neha Thirani Bagri, The New York Times