Everybody hiding their comms – if by ‘everybody’ you mean ‘fewer people than before’
Despite repeated warnings by the Obama administration over the use of encrypted communications by criminals, the government says that it encountered less encryption last year than in 2014.
This according to the latest US Courts Wiretap Report on government surveillance requests, which was published this month.
The report, which logs federal and state wiretap authorizations, finds that law enforcement officials encountered encrypted communications during wiretaps just seven times in 2015, compared to 22 times in 2014.
“In all of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages,” the report reads.
“Six federal wiretaps were reported as being encrypted in 2015, of which four could not be decrypted.
Encryption was also reported for one federal wiretap that was conducted during a previous year, but reported to the Administrative Office for the first time in 2015.”
This despite a 15 per cent increase in the total number of federal and state wiretaps (4,148) last year and the fact that none of the requested wiretaps last year were denied. Requests made to state judges rose at a higher rate (21 per cent) than did requests to federal judges (up 10 per cent).
Phone conversation intercepts (either landline or mobile) accounted for 94 per cent of wiretap requests last year, and drug offenses were by far the most common case in which wiretaps were requested, accounting for 79 per cent of cases.
The report would appear to undermine previous warnings from government officials that encrypted messages were being used by criminals to thwart investigators.
Those fears were touched on by US lawmakers in their most-recent efforts to force device makers into building ‘backdoors’ on their products that would allow law enforcement to decrypt communications. ®