Months after the tragic shooting at a health clinic in San Bernardino, FBI agents are still unable to unlock the phone used by one of the attackers, according to new statements by FBI director James Comey.
Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey mentioned the case as a prime example of device encryption hindering an investigation. "In San Bernardino, a very important investigation for us, we still have one of those killer’s phones that we have not been able to open," Comey told the Committee. "It’s been over two months now. We’re still working on it." Comey's testimony was public and can be viewed here, beginning at roughly 1:04:00.
Notably, Comey did not specify the manufacturer of the phone in question, although he has been vocally critical of Apple's device encryption system in the past. Comey also acknowledged that, while the San Bernardino case is urgent for many reasons, the vast majority of encryption cases involve more banal crimes. "It affects our national security work," Comey said, "but overwhelmingly this is a problem that local law enforcement sees."
Comey's position has drawn significant criticism from the tech world, with many criticizing the call for company-led decryption as both impractical and disingenous. Earlier this month, Harvard's Berkman Center issued a report questioning whether encryption was making investigations harder at all, citing new investigative avenues made possible by encrypted channels like email and texting.