FBI's Wray calls for 'significant innovation' in accessing encrypted data

FBI Director Chris Wray is seeking to reboot the privacy-versus-security debate surrounding law enforcement’s inability to access data on electronic devices protected by powerful encryption.

Over the past year, the FBI failed to access data from nearly 7,800 devices, Wray said Tuesday at the International Conference on Cyber Security in New York City, adding that the number continues to grow, Reuters reported.

Although the agency has the legal authority to unlock the devices, it doesn't have the proper technical tools, he added.

The FBI supports strong encryption, Wray said, but called its inability to access data “an urgent public safety issue” that requires “significant innovation.”

Technology companies and some cybersecurity experts have said that providing law enforcement with a way to access data from encrypted devices would weaken internet security and make it easier for hackers to abuse the system, Reuters reported.

In addition, there is insufficient interest among lawmakers in requiring companies to make products that authorities can access after obtaining a warrant, Reuters said.

“We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence,” Wray said.

Officials have said their inability to collect evidence impedes their ability to catch criminals. They often cite as an example the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., when Apple Inc. subsequently declined to help authorities access the contents of the gunman’s iPhone.