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Report: FBI had overstated number of inaccessible encrypted devices

Report: FBI had overstated number of inaccessible encrypted devices

About five months ago, Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had stated that the agency had close to 7,800 mobile devices from last year that feds could not gain access to. But according to a report recently published by the Washington Post, it turns out that the real volume of inaccessible encrypted handsets is far fewer than what Wray had conveyed to the public.

As cited by the Washington Post’s sources, internal records seem to indicate that the actual number of encrypted devices is somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 phones. The FBI has since issued a statement to the Washington Post, saying that based on their initial examination of the matter, programming errors are likely the culprit for the overestimation of the inaccessible handsets. The agency further explained that because it was maintaining a trio of databases for monitoring the phones, some units were counted at least twice.

While it is true that anybody can make a mistake, one can argue that an agency as well organized such as the FBI should not be making miscalculations like this. For some, it may get more mind boggling when one factors in the fact that each mobile phone comes with its own serial number and other unique identifiers, so even with multiple databases tracking the devices, it should be fairly easy to reconcile any redundancies. 

So what exactly happened? Nobody seems to know, but perhaps the more fitting question is -- what is going on with the FBI lately? Less than a month ago, the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a report saying that the FBI had promptly decided to have a court compel Apple to unlock a specific iPhone unit (owned by a terrorist involved in the 2015 San Bernardino attacks) without actually exhausting all available options at that time. 

It is no surprise then that the FBI is now undergoing an audit for the purpose of ascertaining just how many mobile devices it actually has that it can not unlock. It goes without saying that the agency will get even more flak for this. As a matter of fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has already filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in order to determine how the FBI came up with the 7,800 estimate. Investigation is something the FBI has always been good at, but this time around, it looks like the tables have turned.