Report: FBI Can Unlock Most Devices


The bureau can access the data on most of the smartphones and laptops it encounters during investigations, according to a report.

Locked devices might not be as big a problem for the FBI as it may have seemed after its high-profile fight with Apple over unlocking the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter.

That phone was unlocked by “an outside party” for the FBI, but the bureau can often access what’s on the devices it comes across during investigations, according to a Motherboard report.

At a public event Friday, FBI General Counsel Jim Baker said the bureau dealt with 6,814 phones and laptops so far this year, 2,095 of which were secured by passcodes or passwords. He said the bureau was able to access all but roughly 880 devices, the report said. It's not clear whether that number includes devices that may have been damaged.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

FBI Director James Comey previously has stated the bureau has about 500 smartphones it can’t access that are part of ongoing investigations. Though the FBI and Apple avoided the big court showdown about whether tech companies should access people’s data on behalf of the government, the debate will likely resurface.

"At some point, encryption is going to figure into a major event in this country," Comey said at an event in July. "We've got to have this conversation before that happens because, after that, the time for thoughtful reflection will be significantly reduced."