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FBI Admits Vastly Inflating Number of Unsearchable Mobile Devices

For seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray argued that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies needed “exceptional access” to be built into mobile devices, such as cellphones and tablets. To justify his argument, he said that in 2017 the FBI had been “unable to access the content of approximately 7,800 mobile devices using appropriate and available technical tools, even though there was legal authority to do so.”

He referred to the rapid increase in the number of unsearchable devices the bureau was encountering as “Going Dark,” claiming it would eventually result in law enforcement being unable to access any mobile device even with a valid court order.

The figure of 7,800 unsearchable devices in 2017 has been questioned since it was asserted. The Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that it was an unexplainable increase over the 880 unsearchable mobile devices the FBI said it encountered in 2016.

Nonetheless, Wray and then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to cite the higher number as justification for the “exceptional access” they sought as late as March 2018.

A May 22, 2018, Washington Post article revealed that the FBI has known the figure of 7,800 mobile devices to have been vastly inflated since April 2018.

The FBI said the use of three distinct databases led to the same device being counted multiple times. An internal FBI estimate put the correct number at 1,200.

However, even if every one of the 1,200 mobile devices was triple counted, it would still account for less than half of the figure of 7,800. 



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