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FBI Director Wray: I strongly share Barr's concerns about encrypted devices and messaging platforms, cites Sutherland Springs Apple case

Key Points
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray says he strongly supports Attorney General William Barr's comments that tech companies need to provide a way for law enforcement to access criminals' and suspects' encrypted phones and apps.
  • "I get frustrated when I hear people suggest that we are trying to weaken encryption or weaken cybersecurity more broadly," Wray says.
  • Wray was speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University's law school Thursday.
FBI Director Christopher Wray discusseses the findings of the Inspector General's report on the FBI's handling of a probe into former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, during a news conference in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2018.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that he strongly supported Attorney General William Barr's comments earlier this week that tech companies need to provide a way for law enforcement to access criminals' and suspects' encrypted phones and apps.

"I get frustrated when I hear people suggest that we are trying to weaken encryption or weaken cybersecurity more broadly," Wray said. "As the attorney general discussed a few days ago, our requests can't be assessed in a vacuum. That's important because this is an issue that is becoming worse and worse all the time."

Wray, who was speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University's law school, said the FBI has been "hearing increasingly" from cryptologists that there are solutions that could work to protect encryption and fulfill law enforcement's need for accessing encrypted communications.

Wray cited recent cases where he said cooperation from unnamed application providers was necessary in helping solve two previously unknown child sex abuse cases. In one case, Wray said, a tip came in from a New England town that a nine-year-old girl was being abused. Information from one application provider helped locate and rescue the girl. In another case, two young girls were rescued in less than 12 hours with the cooperation of an application provider.

But in another famous case, the 2017 church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Wray said "now more than 600 days later, the FBI has still not been able to crack the encryption on the phone of the attacker."

The Bureau believes there is information about possible collaborators or other individuals that may pose a threat to a similar attack, but cannot proceed in opening it without the cooperation of the phone's manufacturer, which reportedly is Apple. The FBI has filed warrants with Apple for information from the phone. The company has said in the past it does not comment on law enforcement matters.

"This is not just a national security issue, it's a fundamental public safety issue. If it is not addressed, it impedes not only federal law enforcement, but our state and local partners as well," Wray said.

Wray was named the eighth director of the FBI in August 2017, after a two-decade career with the Justice Department. Wray started his career as a prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia, focused on federal criminal cases including public corruption, gun trafficking, drug crimes and fraud.

He later worked in the D.C. office of the deputy attorney general, and was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003 to the role of assistant attorney general for the DOJ's criminal division. He served on the Corporate Fraud Task Force and was the DOJ supervisor of the Enron fraud investigation.

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