FBI 'Grossly Inflated' Statistics on Investigations Stymied by Encrypted Smartphones

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation provided Congress with "grossly inflated" statistics on the number of electronic devices it has been been unable to access due to encryption, reports The Washington Post.

Last year, the FBI claimed to have been locked out of close to 7,800 devices that were connected to crimes, but the actual number of devices that were inaccessible is smaller, closer in scope to between 1,000 and 2,000. The FBI discovered an error in the method used for counting encrypted smartphones last month, and has not yet completed a full internal audit to determine the correct number.

applefbi

"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 bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of the same phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.

The FBI's inflated numbers are a problem because FBI director Christopher Wray has, at several points in time, used those statistics to warn of the dangers criminals using encryption to "go dark" and evade law enforcement oversight.

Back in October, for example, Wray said the inability to access such a large number of encrypted smartphones was a major problem. "To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem," said Wray. "It impacts investigations across the board - narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation."

In another such speech in January, Wray used the inflated figure to describe encryption as an "urgent public safety issue."

"While the FBI and law enforcement happen to be on the front lines of this problem, this is an urgent public safety issue for all of us. Because as horrifying as 7,800 in one year sounds, it's going to be a lot worse in just a couple of years if we don't find a responsible solution."

These kinds of statistics have also been used by the FBI to advocate for backdoors into encrypted devices like the iPhone.

In 2016, for example, Apple and the FBI had now-famous dispute over the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI demanded that Apple create a tool to allow law enforcement officials to disable passcode security features so they could hack into the device, effectively weakening its protection.

Apple staunchly refused and argued that such a request could set a "dangerous precedent," a position the company has maintained since then as law enforcement officials have continued to advocate for backdoor device access.

Apple, as part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, recently released a statement condemning proposals for backdoors into electronic devices, and in March, Apple engineering chief Craig Federighi said that backdoor access would "inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security."

"Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems," Federighi said.

Despite the FBI's error counting the number of encrypted devices it has been unable to access during criminal investigations, the agency maintained that encryption is a "serious problem" in a statement to The Washington Post.

"Going Dark remains a serious problem for the FBI, as well as other federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners. ... The FBI will continue pursuing a solution that ensures law enforcement can access evidence of criminal activity with appropriate legal authority."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

JPLC Avatar
33 months ago
This is like the FBI asking you to not lock your door so they don’t have to kick it in when they are after you.

Ridiculous.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Plutonius Avatar
33 months ago
This is what happens without oversight.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
PotatoLeekSoup Avatar
33 months ago
I am shocked! (I'm not shocked.) Standard M.O. for them.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Scottsoapbox Avatar
33 months ago
What!?! The government lied to make its position seem better? :eek::eek::eek:

Did anyone expect something else?
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mansu944 Avatar
33 months ago
How the mighty have fallen. I’m still glad they’re on our side but distrust in the FBI is only growing. This is just like how they wanted to help trump...not spy on him.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Z400Racer37 Avatar
33 months ago

The FBI discovered an error in the method used for counting encrypted smartphones last month, and has not yet completed a full internal audit to determine the correct number.

... Well obviously they were practicing counting by 7's or 8's... Because, you know, for our protection....
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Watc black friday 20 sale feature

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best Apple Watch Deals [Updated]

Wednesday November 25, 2020 4:01 pm PST by
Black Friday sales have begun on a variety of products, including the Apple Watch. There are quite a few deals across the Apple Watch lineup this year, including one of the lowest price we've ever seen the Apple Watch Series 3. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the...
m1 chip macbook air pro

Kuo: Redesigned MacBooks With Apple Silicon to Launch in Second Half of 2021

Tuesday November 24, 2020 7:53 pm PST by
Apple plans to release additional MacBook models with Apple Silicon in the second half of 2021, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, as part of the company's two-year transition away from Intel processors across its Mac lineup. In a research note today, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo said that these MacBook models will feature a new design. Kuo did not specify which models these will be, but he...
AirPods Pro black friday 20 sale feature 2

Black Friday 2020: AirPods Pro Reach Lowest Price Ever [Updated]

Wednesday November 25, 2020 3:22 pm PST by
Black Friday has kicked off this week, and one of the first major sales for the AirPods Pro is available right now on Walmart. You can find this deal below, along with a few other solid discounts on the regular AirPods. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site...
13 16 inch macbook pro air trio

Reliable Leaker Suggests Redesigned MacBooks in 2021 Will Include Both Apple Silicon and Intel Models

Wednesday November 25, 2020 9:15 am PST by
Reliable leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today suggested on Twitter that redesigned MacBooks coming in the second half of 2021 will include models with both Apple Silicon chips and Intel processors. The brief Tweet came in response to a MacRumors article from earlier today, which outlined a report from Ming-Chi Kuo claiming that Apple plans to release redesigned MacBook models with Apple ...
General black friday 20 sale feature

Thanksgiving Day Deals Still Available on AirPods, M1 Macs, Apple Watch Series 6, iPads

Thursday November 26, 2020 10:21 am PST by
Black Friday deals seem to start earlier and earlier every year, so there were already a wide variety of discounts available for Apple products on Thanksgiving Day. Many of the deals remain available even after Thanksgiving, but act fast, as inventory quickly fluctuates. Thanksgiving Day Deals on Apple Products — Still Available:AirPods with a wireless charging case remain available for...
iPads black friday 20 sale feature

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best iPad Deals [Updated]

Tuesday November 24, 2020 8:51 am PST by
Black Friday is underway, and we're tracking discounts across Apple's lineup of iPads, including the current-generation 10.2-inch iPad, iPad Air, and iPad Pro. We'll be keeping this post updated as new deals appear and current ones expire, so be sure to keep checking back for the latest. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a...
mac mini macbook pro macbook air

Apple M1 Hands-On Comparison: MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro vs. Mac Mini

Monday November 23, 2020 3:40 pm PST by
Apple's M1 Macs are out in the wild now, but ahead of the holidays, you might still be trying to figure out which one to pick up, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else. We've got all three of the new Macs available, so we thought we'd give MacRumors readers a hands-on overview of each machine in our latest YouTube video. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. ...
windows 10

Developer Successfully Virtualizes Windows for Arm on M1 Mac

Friday November 27, 2020 7:16 am PST by
Developer Alexander Graf has successfully virtualized the Arm version of Windows on an M1 Mac, proving that the M1 chip is capable of running Microsoft's operating system (via The 8-Bit). Currently, Macs with the M1 chip do not support Windows and there is no Boot Camp feature as there is on Intel Macs, but support for Windows is a feature that many users would like to see. Using the...
apple park drone june 2018 2

Apple's Global Security Chief Indicted in Scheme to Trade iPads for Gun Permits, but Apple Says It's Found No Wrongdoing

Wednesday November 25, 2020 9:41 am PST by
Earlier this week, Apple's Chief Security Offier Thomas Moyer and others were charged in an expanding investigation involving the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office over exchanging bribes for concealed gun permits, reported the Morgan Hill Times. According to the investigation, Santa Clara County Undersheriff Rick Sung held back four concealed carry weapons permits for Apple's security team ...
iPad Pro 5G and Mini LED feature

Rumored 2021 High-End iPad Pro May Feature 5G With mmWave Support

Thursday November 26, 2020 2:14 am PST by
Apple's rumored high-end iPad Pro models to be released next year will be 5G-enabled with mmWave support, according to sources cited by industry publication DigiTimes. Multiple rumors have suggested Apple is planning to release a high-end 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a mini-LED display next year, with the possibility that there will be an 11-inch mini-LED model too, but details beyond that have...