Concerned that the FBI or other government (or non-government) agencies might be able to access data from your smartphone without permission?Documents uploaded to WikiLeaks in recent months show that the US Central Intelligence Agency has been developing tools for hacking smartphones and other electronic devices for years.

But in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI director James Comey says that in the first half of the fiscal year, the agency was “unable to access the content of more than 3,000 mobile devices using appropriate and available technical tools, even though there was legal authority to do so.”

Comey says that’s almost half of the mobile devices the FBI tried to access during that period.

It’s not clear what set the devices the FBI was able to access apart from those that it was… but it’s likely that some smartphone owners don’t enable passwords. And Android phones in the wild use old versions of the operating system which may not include the most recent security patches which are meant to prevent unauthorized users from accessing your data.

While Comey’s statement was meant to suggest that the agency needs more resources so that it can access data on smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices, it should be reassuring to folks who note that the same tight security measures that help keep the FBI from cracking your phone should also be able to keep malicious hackers from exploiting the same vulnerabilities.

As TechCrunch reports, Comey seemed to suggest in testimony that law enforcement agencies should be able to work with tech companies such as Apple and Google to find ways for the FBI to access smartphone data when it has a court order to do so without building a “backdoor” into the hardware or software. It’s unclear what that would entail though, since if the FBI can access data without a users’s permission, one would think that hackers (who clearly don’t have a court order) would be able to do the same.




Support Liliputing

Liliputing's primary sources of revenue are advertising and affiliate links (if you click the "Shop" button at the top of the page and buy something on Amazon, for example, we'll get a small commission).

But there are several ways you can support the site directly even if you're using an ad blocker* and hate online shopping.

Contribute to our Patreon campaign


Contribute via PayPal

* If you are using an ad blocker like uBlock Origin and seeing a pop-up message at the bottom of the screen, we have a guide that may help you disable it.

Subscribe to Liliputing via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,533 other subscribers

8 replies on “FBI unable to access “nearly half” of mobile devices attempted this year”

  1. Not to worry. What the FBI cannot access the NSA can. With the new rules going into place the NSA will be able to share their information with the FBI (no warrant required).

    1. Unfortunately with terrorism on the rise and computers, cell phones and other electronic communication devices being used to facilitate terrorism a law (and if needed a constitutional amendment) is going to be needed to require Google, Apple and Microsoft to put a back door into their operating systems and cloud data storage products if they wish to offer their products to US customers so the FBI and NSA can (with a warrant) get the information they need to prosecute terrorists, rapists and others committing serious crimes and hiding their information behind data services and operating systems without a manner of entry for law enforcement officials. Hackers could theoretically figure out how to use that backdoor but if we don’t have it the consequences will be another 9/11 except on an even larger scale — so it is worth taking the risk of hackers finding that backdoor into computing devices to save thousands of lives.

      1. Turns out lots of people believe the potential damage from government abuse and hacker abuse overwhelms the theoretical benefit of giving the NSA and FBI free access to all of our private information in order to catch and prosecute rapists, terrorists, other felons.

        1. That’s the practical side of the issue. There isn’t really evidence that this sort of mechanism can or will prevent anything or catch significantly more criminals, but there is well documented evidence of abuse by government and malicious third parties on backdoors like this.

          But there’s more on the philosophical side. “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” as commonly cited of Franklin.

      1. I mean, if you’re skeptical of the sharing part,

        And there was the big leak of tools the NSA had, so I think it’s not unreasonable to assume the NSA does have significant capabilities there. I don’t think this is just tin foil hat paranoia. On the average, yeah, you’re probably not going to get spied upon by the government, but if you happen to get targeted, fairly, legally, or not, it can REALLY suck.

      2. argumentum ad hominem, publi corneli, not to go further in tin foil hat paranoia, comments reading, pct? long day or just youthinks

Comments are closed.