Recall that the FBI has long wanted government-accessible backdoors into our personal but encrypted communications. “Trust us,” FBI leadership assures us, “we wouldn’t misuse that access; we’ll only use for ‘criminal’ investigations, and only with government authorization.” And they’ve claimed in support of that wide-eyed innocence that they can’t break into over 7,000 cell phones in the pursuit of criminal investigations. Current FBI Director Christopher Wray even put the number at over 7,700.
On Tuesday, the FBI told PCMag that a programming error resulted in a “significant overcounting” of the encrypted devices. “The FBI is currently conducting an in-depth review of how this over-counting previously occurred,” the agency said in a statement.
PCMag went on to cite the Washington Post as putting the actual number at around 1,200.
According to the agency, starting in April 2016, it began using a new “collection methodology” with how it counted the encrypted devices. But only recently did the FBI become aware of flaws in the methodology, it said, without elaborating.
“Given the availability of these third-party solutions, we’ve questioned how and why the FBI finds itself thwarted by so many locked phones,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a blog post.
Indeed. Whether this government agency was being dishonest in its characterization of the encryption “problem,” or it was just being incredibly sloppy in using “collection methodology” that it has so plainly inadequately tested, this incident is just one more reason Government cannot be trusted with back doors into privately encrypted personal correspondence.