FBI Director Comey Says Smartphone Encryption Legal Battles Are Far From Over

The FBI ultimately dropped its suit against Apple involving the now infamous iPhone that was connected to a terrorist in the San Bernardino shooting, but the quest to set a legal precedent marches on. FBI Director James Comey hinted as much when said this week there would be more legal battles over encryption and with regards to forcing tech companies to help law enforcement access data on electronic devices.

It's not game over, in other words. Though the FBI ultimately didn't need Apple's help in extracting data from the iPhone 5c model it confiscated from a dead terrorist who had locked the handset with a passcode, there's still the issue of whether or not the government has the power to force tech companies to help with such things. Comey believes it does when it comes to issues of national security, and the FBI will go to court again if and when it needs to.


This is a topic that has tech companies and the U.S. government at odds with one another. It's not just hardware makers, either. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook and is the world's most popular messaging service, recently introduced end-to-end encryption and the FBI isn't real happy about it.

WhatsApp isn't currently being targeted by the FBI in any legal matters, though Comey stated he believed the app's encryption model "is affecting the criminal work [of the FBI] in huge ways." But here's the rub—if apps like WhatsApp contain a backdoor for the FBI to walk through, they're no longer secure.

On the hardware side, the FBI has seen some measure of success in unlocking confiscated devices, though not to the extend it would like. Out of the 4,000 devices the agency has tried unlocking since October, it's been thwarted around 500 times.