FBI Widely Overstated How Many Times It Was Locked Out Of Encrypted Cellular Devices

The FBI has quoted statistics to the public and Congress that claimed investigators had been locked out of encrypted devices like smartphones nearly 7,800 times. It is now being reported that the actual number is much smaller in the area of between 1,000 and 2,000 incidents. The report claims that over a time frame of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as evidence that the FBI needed to address what it calls "Going Dark."


Going Dark is a term the FBI uses to describe the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators from accessing data on a device even when they have a court order authorizing the action. Reports indicate that the FBI first became aware it was misquoting the number about a month ago and has admitted that it still lacks an accurate count of how many times investigations were foiled by encrypted devices. At least one internal estimate from the agency has put the correct number of locked devices at about 1,200.

That number is expected to change as the FBI launches a new audit, something that is expected to take several weeks to finish according to sources. "The FBI's initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported," the FBI said in a statement Tuesday.

The FBI is shedding light on how exactly it got the count so wrong blaming the use of three distinct databases that led to the repeated counting of some devices. Tests of the method of counting that were conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw according to sources. The FBI does maintain that despite miscounting, the inability to access phones is a serious problem for it as well as other agencies.