Strong encryption an 'urgent public safety issue', says FBI head

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FBI not being able to access electronic devices due to strong encryption is an “urgent public safety issue”, the head of the bureau has claimed.

Speaking at a cyber-security conference in New York , FBI director Christopher Wray said the Bureau was unable to access almost 7,800 devices in the past year, despite having obtained legal rights to do so.

This impacts every area of FBI’s work, he added. It couldn’t access data on more than half of devices it tried to unlock, all due to strong encryption, he said. “This is an urgent public safety issue,” Wray added, while saying that a solution is “not so clear cut.”

The battle between electronics devices manufacturers and law enforcement agencies is a long one. It has been going on ever since the San Bernardino attack and the problems the FBI had with unlocking the attacker’s iPhone.

Device manufacturers argue that removing strong encryption, or adding a backdoor to their devices, would just empower hackers and put their customers’ data at risk, which is something they don’t want to do. On the other hand, the FBI says not having access to these devices makes maintaining security a harder task.

“We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence,” Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires “significant innovation,” Wray said, “but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible.”

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