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.

"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

(View all)
Avatar
31 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)
Avatar
31 months ago
This is what happens without oversight.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
31 months ago
I am shocked! (I'm not shocked.) Standard M.O. for them.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
31 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)
Avatar
31 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)
Avatar
31 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

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
Updated on September 22nd with hands on video. In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of...

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

PSA: New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop

Monday September 21, 2020 3:26 pm PDT by
With the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced two new band options, the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. These new bands are unique because they have no clasps, buckles, or other fasteners, and instead use a stretch design to allow them to pull onto the wrist over the hand. Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person...

Apple Releases First Public Betas of iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 With New Shazam Control Center Options

Monday September 21, 2020 10:34 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to its public beta testing group, a few days after seeding the first betas to developers and a little less than a week after releasing the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program can download the iOS and iPadOS‌ 14.2 updates over the air after ...

Kuo: Apple to Accelerate Adoption of Mini-LED Displays in iPad and Mac Notebook Lineups

Sunday September 20, 2020 10:00 pm PDT by
Increased competition among Apple's suppliers for mini-LED display chips will accelerate the company's adoption of the advanced technology in its iPad and MacBook lineups, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by MacRumors. Kuo says that while Epistar had been predicted to be the exclusive supplier of mini-LED chips for Apple products in 2021, Sanan Optoelectronics...

AirPods Studio Rumored to Come With U1 Chip, Ultra-Wideband Said to Be Vital to Future Apple Ecosystem

Sunday September 20, 2020 6:17 am PDT by
Proven leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared a range of information about the ultra-wideband U1 chip in Apple's upcoming AirTags item trackers and AirPods Studio headphones. The first of a series of tweets shared today simply stated that AirPods Studio will contain an ultra-wideband U1 chip. It seems likely that the U1 chip would be used in AirPods Studio to track the location of...

AT&T Already Working on 6G, Says 5G iPhones Might Not Be 'Massive Event' Due to Economic Uncertainty

Monday September 21, 2020 10:05 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming launch of 5G iPhones might not be a "massive event" due to economic uncertainty amid the global health crisis, AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh said in a paywalled interview published by CNBC. "I do believe that you will see many of the iPhone subscribers move to upgrade to the device," said McElfresh. "But I wouldn't forecast that it's going to be a massive event. I...

Microsoft Announces Outlook for Mac Redesign, Improvements to iOS and watchOS Apps

Tuesday September 22, 2020 8:56 am PDT by
Microsoft has today announced plans to bring a new design to its Outlook for Mac app along with several other improvements and features for Outlook on iOS and watchOS. In preparation for the public release of macOS Big Sur, Microsoft has been testing a new design for Outlook on Mac. The design includes Microsoft's Fluent icons and several design cues from Big Sur such as rounded corners....

iOS 14 Adoption Surpasses 25% Across iPhone and iPad Five Days After Release

Monday September 21, 2020 9:06 am PDT by
Five days after Apple released iOS 14, adoption of the software update has reached approximately 26 percent of active iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices, according to mobile analytics company Mixpanel. This includes iPadOS 14. iOS 14 adoption appears to be outpacing iOS 13, which was installed on approximately 20 percent of active devices one week after its release last year, according to...

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...