FBI Director James B. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that FBI technicians have still been unable to access encrypted data on a cellphone belonging to the terrorist couple that attacked a holiday party in San Bernardino on December 2.
“We still have one of those killers’ phones that we haven’t been able to open,” Comey told the committee. “It has been two months now and we are still working on it.”
Federal investigators believe the encrypted data may shed light the actions the two killers, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, both before and after the attack. Investigators are particularly interested in whether the two may have had help from others prior to the attack and whether they had plans to attack additional targets.
This is at least the second time that cellphone encryption has blunted an FBI investigation into a terror attack on U.S. soil. In December, Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that one of the terrorists involved in the thwarted Garland, TX attack exchanged 109 messages with an overseas terrorist just prior to the attack. However, due to encryption the FBI could not access those messages.
The rise in consumer privacy concerns over the past few years has led to an increase in available encryption technology that enables only the user to unlock the phone. This is an issue that concerns many in law enforcement as it can greatly hinders their ability to conduct investigations and stop future attacks. Privacy advocates and some cellphone companies argue, however, that keeping a separate “key” to open locked devices would also make them vulnerable to hackers.
[h/t LA Times; image via screengrab]