FBI Chief: Battle Over Encrypted Devices Rages On

Despite dropping its fight with Apple over creating a backdoor to access the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, the FBI still plans to pursue access to other encrypted devices and data, said the agency's director.



Encryption Debate: 8 Things CIOs Should Know
Encryption Debate: 8 Things CIOs Should Know
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The debate and legal fight over whether the government can force tech companies to unlock personal devices in the name of national security is far from over, according to FBI Director James Comey.

The agency's chief told a group of reporters on Wednesday that tech companies should expect more litigation in the future over the FBI seeking access to users' electronic devices and encrypted information, according to a Reuters report

Comey pointed to encryption as the "essential tradecraft" that terrorists such as the Islamic State use. He noted that questions surrounding the government's right to force tech companies to unlock users' devices have turned into a fight that will go on, Reuters reported.

(Image: Mutlu Kurtbas/iStockphoto)

(Image: Mutlu Kurtbas/iStockphoto)

Despite the fact that messaging service WhatsApp's recently unveiled end-to-end encryption, which is "affecting the criminal work (of the FBI) in huge ways," he has no plans to sue WhatsApp's parent company Facebook, according to Reuters.

But the agency wasn't shy in launching a high-profile lawsuit against Apple, following the San Bernardino terrorist attack late last year. The FBI wasn't able to unlock the encryption on terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone, and demanded that Apple create a backdoor to allow access. That lawsuit was dropped after the FBI hired a hacker who was successful in cracking into the iPhone.

Comey said that of the 4,000 devices examined by agency experts since October, they have failed to unlock 500 phones -- which have different operating systems and model-types from Farook's iPhone, according to Reuters. However, the FBI is looking into how to use the same tool used in the Farook case to unlock other phones, the report added.

[See iPhone Encryption: 5 Ways It's Changed Over Time.]

As a result, the debate over encrypted devices is not likely to go away anytime soon. Last month, for example, Congress held a hearing to confront the issue of encrypted devices and whether law enforcement should have the ability to lawfully access these devices and communications.

Although the hearing did not produce any concrete plan of action, there is other movement afoot in this area. In March, an encryption working group was formed by lawmakers to explore potential uses and regulation of encryption. There's also legislation that's been introduced that would address backdoors in encrypted devices, according to a TechCrunch report.

Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's ... View Full Bio

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