Director Christopher Wray of the FBI said that due to encryption, the FBI has not been able to access almost 7000 mobile devices.
With FBI agents unable to access information on numerous locked devices, the bureau’s head labeled the prevalence of data encryption as a “huge, huge problem” for its investigations.
Wray claimed that the FBI failed to obtain access to more than 50% of the devices that it had tried to unlock within a period of eleven months.
“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,” said Wray at the International Association of Chiefs of Police on Sunday.
Encryption is featured on many of the newest mobile phones and tablets, with fingerprint scanners or user-set passwords locking personal information away. This information is usually not accessible even to the manufacturers of the device.
“Encryption that frustrates forensic investigations will be a fact of life from now on for law enforcement agencies,” states Alan Woodward, a computer science professor at the University of Surrey.
“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.”
In 2016, the FBI requested Apple to help them access an iPhone that had been used by Syed Rizwan Farook, the San Bernadino shooter. However, the tech company objected to the court order, claiming that its staff would not be able to have access to the encrypted data.
The FBI later obtained access to the phone of Farook with the help of a third party firm who had found a way to break into the device.