FBI Admits it Can Break Into Most Devices

The recent admission by the FBI shows the ridiculousness of their “going dark” narrative.

The FBI is able to unlock or access data on most of the phones and computers it encounters during its investigations, as well as those of local and state cops, according to the bureau’s General Counsel Jim Baker.

So far in the fiscal year 2016 (from Oct. 1, 2015 until Sept. 30, 2016), the FBI has encountered passwords or passcodes that is locked phones or laptops in 2,095 out of 6,814 (31 percent) mobile devices analyzed by its forensic labs, Baker said according to attendants at a public meeting on encryption and the challenges it poses to law enforcement, celebrated in Washington D.C. on Friday.

And even for those 2,095 devices that were locked, the fed’s investigators were able to break in in 1,210 cases, and couldn’t unlock around 880 devices, Baker reportedly said. In other words, in the vast majority of cases (87%), the FBI was able to access the data it needed.

The fed’s argument is that unbreakable encryption is stumping criminal investigations, making them harder, if not impossible, to sometimes access important evidence on a suspect or a victim’s phone or computer.

The numbers disclosed by Baker on Friday, which have never been published before, seem to indicate that the reality, however, is a little different.

“These numbers demonstrate that even with encryption turned on by default on all newer iPhones and some Android phones, it is posing a problem in a relatively small number of caseswhile that same encryption is presumably preventing a wide range of crimes,” Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, who was at the meeting, told Motherboard in an online chat.

As surveillance expert and blogger Marcy Wheeler noted, the FBI’s claims that it can’t get into 13% of phones is “bogus” and is a “false claim about encryption,” as these numbers aren’t just about crypto.

The reality is that the FBI’s arguments on digital security are largely just power-grab attempts, when they have more power now than ever before. The real “Going Dark” phenomenon is the FBI’s secret and illegal abuses of power; them saying they need more access, when they have more access to information than any time in history, demonstrates the absurdity of their falsehoods. Just because the encryption is unbreakable doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to work around it, such as by exploiting the software.