Sessions: Congress may need to 'take action' on encryption

Sessions: Congress may need to 'take action' on encryption
© Greg Nash

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump: Sessions 'should be ashamed of himself' for allowing Russia probe to proceed Interior chief Zinke to leave administration Trump, Christie met to discuss chief of staff job: report MORE indicated in a Monday speech that Congress may ultimately have to wade into the debate about federal law enforcement agencies unlocking encrypted devices that are tied to ongoing investigations.

Sessions, in a speech to a group of state law enforcement agencies, said the issue is "critical" because the bureau was unable to access thousands of devices related to their work of protecting the public.

"Last year, the FBI was unable to access investigation-related content on more than 7,700 devices — even though they had the legal authority to do so. Each of those devices was tied to a threat to the American people," Sessions said, adding that the "stakes are high." 

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"That’s why we are working with stakeholders in the private sector, in law enforcement and in Congress to find a solution to this problem. Ultimately, we may need Congress to take action on this issue," he continued.

Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinNo glory in James Comey getting away with his abuse of FBI power Mueller’s real challenge Graham vows to push Trump’s AG pick through Judiciary Committee MORE have repeatedly called for tech companies to design encryption systems that would allow law enforcement access to locked devices, an argument also made during the Obama administration.

Such efforts, however, have been resisted by tech companies and privacy advocates, who warn that back doors into the encrypted technology could also be exploited by those same law enforcement agencies or other groups.

The FBI has long argued that law enforcement should have the ability to pry open cellphones as a way of protecting domestic security.

Earlier this year, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that the inability to surpass the strong encryptions on electronic devices poses an “urgent public safety issue” that would impact the bureau's investigations across the board, including counterterrorism, counterintelligence, human trafficking and organized crime.

“Let me be clear: The FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don’t undermine the lawful tools we need to keep this country safe,” Wray said in January.