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FBI chief calls unbreakable encryption 'urgent public safety issue'

From Reuters - January 9, 2018

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data fromelectronic devices due to powerful encryption is an urgent public safety issue, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agencys work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York.

The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added.

This is an urgent public safety issue, Wray added, while saying that a solution is not so clear cut.

Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBIs attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspects cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant.

Wrays comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August.

The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable.

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