FBI 'Grossly Inflated' Statistics on Investigations Stymied by Encrypted Smartphones

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The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation provided Congress with "grossly inflated" statistics on the number of electronic devices it has been been unable to access due to encryption, reports The Washington Post.

Last year, the FBI claimed to have been locked out of close to 7,800 devices that were connected to crimes, but the actual number of devices that were inaccessible is smaller, closer in scope to between 1,000 and 2,000. The FBI discovered an error in the method used for counting encrypted smartphones last month, and has not yet completed a full internal audit to determine the correct number.

"The FBI's initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported," the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of the same phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.
The FBI's inflated numbers are a problem because FBI director Christopher Wray has, at several points in time, used those statistics to warn of the dangers criminals using encryption to "go dark" and evade law enforcement oversight.

Back in October, for example, Wray said the inability to access such a large number of encrypted smartphones was a major problem. "To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem," said Wray. "It impacts investigations across the board - narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation."

In another such speech in January, Wray used the inflated figure to describe encryption as an "urgent public safety issue."
"While the FBI and law enforcement happen to be on the front lines of this problem, this is an urgent public safety issue for all of us. Because as horrifying as 7,800 in one year sounds, it's going to be a lot worse in just a couple of years if we don't find a responsible solution."
These kinds of statistics have also been used by the FBI to advocate for backdoors into encrypted devices like the iPhone.

In 2016, for example, Apple and the FBI had now-famous dispute over the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI demanded that Apple create a tool to allow law enforcement officials to disable passcode security features so they could hack into the device, effectively weakening its protection.

Apple staunchly refused and argued that such a request could set a "dangerous precedent," a position the company has maintained since then as law enforcement officials have continued to advocate for backdoor device access.

Apple, as part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, recently released a statement condemning proposals for backdoors into electronic devices, and in March, Apple engineering chief Craig Federighi said that backdoor access would "inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security."

"Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems," Federighi said.

Despite the FBI's error counting the number of encrypted devices it has been unable to access during criminal investigations, the agency maintained that encryption is a "serious problem" in a statement to The Washington Post.

"Going Dark remains a serious problem for the FBI, as well as other federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners. ... The FBI will continue pursuing a solution that ensures law enforcement can access evidence of criminal activity with appropriate legal authority."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Article Link: FBI 'Grossly Inflated' Statistics on Investigations Stymied by Encrypted Smartphones
 

flyinmac

macrumors 68040
Sep 2, 2006
3,576
2,452
United States
Investigation to determine the correct number. Lol

Ummm.... yeah let me hit sort on the database. Oh there we go... number is...

Or we can pay someone to go count them manually and then pay to investigate whether he had a motive to miscount. Then we’ll have another guy count. Then we’ll ask the Democrats if they want to protest our count. Then we’ll check to see if Russia might have paid any of our people to miscount. And then we’ll accuse Republicans of conspiring to alter the count. And then we’ll investigate Trump. Trump will investigate the Democrats. We’ll find out that Hillary deleted the database when nobody was looking, and then Putin will get blamed for the miscount. And Apple will increase security while failing to close the back door.

In the end, we’ll determine that it was actually a billion phones, and that Apple refusing to hand over the keys to the back door cost the country 50 trillion dollars in investigation expenses.
 

DoctorTech

macrumors 6502a
Jan 6, 2014
674
1,454
Indianapolis, IN
I think the FBI is too busy violating attorney-client privileges, shredding documents, and bit bleaching text messages between anti-Trump "agents with benefits" to waste time getting an accurate count on cell phones. Besides, the grossly exaggerated number made their case for backdoors look better. Its funny how all their "mistakes" always seem to benefit their side of the argument. In statistics, when numbers are consistently off in the same direction it is called "bias."

Too bad we don't have an Attorney General to provide some adult supervision, this agency desperately needs it.
 

Analog Kid

macrumors 603
Mar 4, 2003
5,394
3,733
The actual number seems moot. Questions like this should be about "allowed" or "not allowed", it doesn't make a difference how many there are.

I've an opinion on which way it should be, but I suspect someone who disagrees with me also feels like this is about one as much as it's about many.
 
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trusso

macrumors 6502
Oct 4, 2003
455
1,110
FBI credibility keeps taking hits lately. We need more oversight of this agency and similar ones in the federal government.
FBI? Credibility? The United States' intelligence agencies have long and dubious histories, all of them. Every now and again they earn their keep, but generally, they're staffed by bureaucrats and run by narcissists. The U.S. intelligence apparatus would turn itself into the Gestapo if it could (and may very well do so, given enough time). :confused:

 

PaulRustad007

macrumors 6502
Jun 3, 2015
390
353
FBI credibility keeps taking hits lately. We need more oversight of this agency and similar ones in the federal government.
There is oversight....Congress. And they are finally growing a pair and FORCING them to cooperate with everything. About time......these unelected bureaucracies are becoming a problem for us, the average Citizen that pays taxes.....time to reign them in.
 

Garsun

macrumors regular
Oct 20, 2009
178
176
“Going dark” is seriously inconvenient for foreign governments and hackers as well
 
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