US FBI director warns that new phone encryption could thwart probes

US FBI director James Comey (seen here, above, in September) on Thursday made his strongest comments yet about encryption features built into new cellphones by Google and Apple, warning they could hurt law enforcement efforts to crack homicide and ch
US FBI director James Comey (seen here, above, in September) on Thursday made his strongest comments yet about encryption features built into new cellphones by Google and Apple, warning they could hurt law enforcement efforts to crack homicide and child exploitation cases. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US FBI director James Comey on Thursday made his strongest comments yet about encryption features built into new cellphones by Google and Apple, warning they could hurt law enforcement efforts to crack homicide and child exploitation cases.

Speaking before an audience at the Brookings Institution, Comey said the new phones, which limit the ability for the companies themselves to access data stored on the units, have "the potential to create a black hole for law enforcement".

FBI agents have in the past been able to access information stored on cellphones with a court order forcing the company to retrieve the information.

Comey said Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have come across a growing number of cases they believe evidence sat on a phone or a laptop which they were unable to crack, though he did not provide specific examples.

"If this becomes the norm, I suggest to you that homicide cases could be stalled, suspects walked free, child exploitation not discovered and prosecuted," he said.

Comey also urged Congress to update the law that governs law enforcement's ability to intercept communications, which was enacted two decades ago and does not address some newer technologies.