FBI Director Says Problematic Encryption Has Prevented Agency From Unlocking 7,000 Devices

FBI
There's no secret that the FBI is not a big fan of device encryption on devices like smartphones. As we saw in the San Bernardino incident, then FBI director James Comey attempted to bully Apple into providing a backdoor to iOS and the Touch ID safe enclave in order to break into an iPhone 5s that was used by one of the terrorists. Apple refused to cave in, and the FBI eventually went with an outside firm to crack the device.

Comey's successor, Christopher Wray, is once again fanning the flames when it comes to the debate between giving law enforcement agencies the tools necessary to unlock devices that are subject to a criminal investigation, and respecting the desire of everyday Americans to have their private data securely protected. Speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, Wray revealed that the FBI has a backlog of 6,900 devices that can't be examined due to encryption that its internal teams cannot crack.

“To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem,” said Wray about the unenviable position that the FBI is in with regards to evidence that could help it piece together missing clues in a crime. “It impacts investigations across the board — narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation.”

Christopher Wray FBI
FBI Director Christopher Wray

Not surprisingly, the comments are not that far removed from claims that Comey made during his tenure as FBI director.  However, Wray went on to add that he is sympathetic to the idea that Americans value their privacy and want to feel that their data is safe, without fear that encryption keys would leak putting everyone's data at risk.

“I get it, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between encryption and the importance of giving us the tools we need to keep the public safe,” Wray added.

While the FBI would love to get its hands on a skeleton key that would magically give it access to any device it wanted, tech companies -- as we've seen with Apple -- don't seem to be so willing to acquiesce to these demands.

"Encryption that frustrates forensic investigations will be a fact of life from now on for law enforcement agencies," said cybersecurity expert Alan Woodward while speaking with BBC News. "Even if the equipment manufacturers didn't build in such encryption it would be possible to obtain software that encrypted data in the same way."


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