Lawmakers question FBI director on encryption

By Morgan Chalfant - 04/13/18 01:31 PM EDT

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing FBI Director Christopher Wray on 
the bureau’s efforts to unlock encrypted devices, in the wake of a critical 
watchdog report.

In a letter sent Friday, the lawmakers called into question recent statements 
made by Wray and others that the bureau is unable to access scores of devices 
for ongoing criminal investigations because of encryption—often referred to as 
the “going dark” problem. 

According to a report released last month, the Justice Department inspector 
general found that the FBI did not exhaust all avenues to unlock the iPhone of 
one of suspects in the 2015 San Bernardino attack before seeking a court order 
to force Apple to unlock the device. 
One FBI official also voiced concerns that agents weren’t exhausting all 
technical avenues to unlock the device because they wanted the suit against 
Apple to go forward. 

In the letter sent Friday, several House lawmakers labeled the inspector 
general report “troubling,” arguing that it undermines statements made by FBI 
officials that only device makers could provide a solution to unlock encrypted 

The lawmakers also cited news reports that private companies like Cellebrite 
and Greyshift have developed capabilities to unlock encrypted phones. 

Taken together, they argued, the revelations cast doubt on Wray’s recent 
assertion that the FBI was unable to access 7,800 devices last fiscal year 
despite having relevant court orders. 

“According to your testimony and public statements, the FBI encountered 7,800 
devices last year that it could not access due to encryption,” the lawmakers 
wrote. “However, in light of the availability of unlocking tools developed by 
third-parties and the OIG report’s findings that the Bureau was uninterested in 
seeking available third-party options, these statistics appear highly 

The lawmakers are asking Wray to respond to several questions, including 
whether he has consulted with third-party vendors to understand tools that 
could be used to break encryption, and whether the bureau has attempted to use 
tools developed by third parties to access the 7,800 devices. 

The letter is signed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), 
Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Ted 
Poe (R-Texas), Jared Polis (D-Col.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Suzan DelBene 
(D-Wash.), and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

Wray and other Justice Department officials have stepped up talk about the 
challenge posed by encryption in recent months. Meanwhile, the Trump 
administration is said to be mounting a push for a legal mandate that would 
require tech companies to build tools into devices that would allow law 
enforcement access. 

There are also early efforts on Capitol Hill to explore potential encryption 
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