The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to
Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by
encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of
nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the
correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000,
The Washington Post has learned.
Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray
cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the
need to address what the FBI calls “Going Dark” — the spread of
encrypted software that can block investigators’ access to digital
data even with a court order.
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.
Even if the accurate number really was 7,800, it wouldn’t change the fact that adding backdoors to phones would be a disaster for security and privacy. The number really doesn’t matter. But the fact that they overstated it by a factor of 6 makes the FBI look really bad. I’m not saying they lied, but I think it’s unlikely they would have undercounted the number of phones by a factor of 6.