FBI Director: unbreakable encryption is a “huge, huge problem”


Enlarge/ Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray participates in a question-and-answer session while arguing for the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act at the Heritage Foundation October 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a conference of law enforcement officials on Sunday that he and his colleagues have been unable to open nearly 7,000 digital devices in the first 11 months of the 2017 fiscal year.

“To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem,” Wray said at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press. “It impacts investigations across the board—narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation.”

Wray’s remarks come less than two weeks after another top law enforcement official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, called for “responsible encryption”—a seemingly magical method by which only law enforcement would be able to defeat the encryption on a digitally-locked device.

“I get it,” Wray said. “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.”

His speech did not focus exclusively on encryption, but also touted the FBI’s partnerships with law enforcement locally and around the world.

Susan McKee, the head of the FBI’s National Press Office, told reporters in an e-mail last week that Wray’s remarks were “not expected to break new ground.” She did not immediately respond to Ars’ request Monday for a full copy of Wray’s remarks.

Indeed, the FBI and the Department of Justice are again reiterating a position that goes back nearly a decade. In early 2016, the DOJ pushed Apple in court to break its own encryption on a seized iPhone that was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, the deceased terrorist who killed numerous people during the December 2015 San Bernardino attack.

In 2009, the FBI asked Congress for $9 million as part of its “Going Dark Program,” a component of its Fiscal Year 2010 budget. By FY 2017, the budget for this program had ballooned to over $38 million.

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