The FBI is struggling to decode private messages on phones and other mobile devices that could contain key criminal evidence, and the agency failed to access data more than half of the times it tried during the last fiscal year, FBI Director Christopher Wray told House lawmakers.
Wray will testify at the House Judiciary Committee Thursday morning on the wide range of issues the FBI faces. One of the issues hurting the FBI, he said, is the ability of criminals to “go dark,” or hide evidence electronically from authorities.
“The rapid pace of advances in mobile and other communication technologies continues to present a significant challenge to conducting lawful court-ordered access to digital information or evidence,” he said in his prepared remarks to the committee. “Unfortunately, there is a real and growing gap between law enforcement’s legal authority to access digital information and its technical ability to do so.”
Wray said criminals and terrorists are increasingly using these technologies. He added that the Islamic State is reaching potential recruits through encrypted messaging, which are difficult for the FBI to crack.
“If we cannot access this evidence, it will have ongoing, significant effects on our ability to identify, stop, and prosecute these offenders,” he said.
He noted that in the last fiscal year, the FBI was unable to access data on about 7,800 mobile devices, even though they had the legal authority to try. He said that was a little more than half of the mobile devices the FBI tried to access in fiscal year 2017.