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Surprise! The FBI Inflated the Number of Encrypted Devices it Couldn’t Access

Surprise! The FBI Inflated the Number of Encrypted Devices it Couldn’t Access

The Washington Post says the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has inflated the figure connected to the number of devices it has been unable to unlock due to strong encryption.

As the report notes, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray has cited a figure of 7,800 several times over the last seven months. However, the FBI became aware last month that the actual number was much smaller, somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 devices.

The FBI first became aware of the miscount about a month ago and still does not have an accurate count of how many encrypted phones they received as part of criminal investigations last year, officials said. Last week, one internal estimate put the correct number of locked phones at 1,200, though officials expect that number to change as they launch a new audit, which could take weeks to complete, according to people familiar with the work.

An FBI statement says the miscalculation was due to the bureau’s use of three different databases, which resulted in the same phones being counted multiple times.

“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 phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.

The FBI has used the 7,800 figure in an effort to spur companies like Apple to create “backdoor” access to their devices.

The FBI still insists that despite the phone-counting errors, “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.”

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