Is it just too easy for hackers? Or are the rest of us just so far behind? It appears the red tape is tripping us up over and over again... October 22 2017, FBI’s director Christopher Wray said that the Bureau was unable to retrieve information from 7,000 devices – more than half the number of devices the FBI tried to initially gain access to over the past year.
Subsequently, this had led to a continuation of the heated combatative debate between tech companies and law enforcement agencies trying to uncover illegal actions by recovering encrypted communications and information.
The Bureau’s director mentioned at a conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Philadelphia that agents of the Federal Bureau were unable to gain access to content of almost 7,000 devices during the first eleven months of the past year. He added that this has become an immense issue which impacts investigations all across the board, from gangs and organized crime to child exploitation, human trafficking, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism.
Where is the Limit?
Law enforcement officials, including the FBI, have been complaining for a long time that they cant unlock or decrypt devices obtained from suspects to acquire evidence despite having proper warrants. At the same time, tech companies repeat the 'Individual Privacy' mantra over and over.
This on-going debate got propelled into the spotlight in 2016 when Apple was forced by the US Justice Department to unlock the cellphone of the gunman that carried out the San Bernardino terrorist attack. It wasn’t until the FBI had stated they had used services of an unidentified merchant to unlock the device and were no longer in need of Apple’s assistance that the Justice Department eased off on their demands and avoided a complete court shutdown.
More Aggressive Measures Announced
Under President Donald Trump, the Justice Department suggested it will be more aggressive and assertive when it comes to compelling tech companies to provide access to encrypted devices and information. However, Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, did not clarify which actions the Department would ultimately take to achieve their agenda.
He expressed his understanding that there needs to be a balance between providing the government with the tools that keep the public safe and keeping private data encrypted and secure.
In front of a large audience, Director Wray praised FBI’s partnership with a number of local and federal law enforcement agencies to fight global terrorism and violent crimes, alluding to the current lack of access and stalling when it comes to accessing information.
He stated that the threat that law enforcement agencies were facing are becoming more diverse and complex, taking the form of homegrown terrorists as well as terrorist organizations from all over the globe and criticized the gaping hole in which intelligence agencies would find themselves if Congress failed to renew an intelligence surveillance law that expires at the end of this year.
With the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government can gather information on people they suspect to be involved in cybercrime and other criminal activities, and even foreign persons of interest that are outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
Law enforcement officials as well as the intelligence service claim this act is of the most vital importance to the nation’s security. One particular section of the act allows the government to target non-American individuals outside of the jurisdiction of the US, under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Unless this act is renewed, the agencies tasked with national security will surely find themselves in a literal blind spot.