FBI director says investigators unable to unlock San Bernardino killer's phone content

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WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - FBI Director James Comey said on Tuesday that federal investigators have still been unable to access the phone contents belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers due to encrypted technology.

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Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the phenomenon of communications "going dark" due to more sophisticated technology and wider use of encryption is "overwhelmingly affecting" law enforcement operations, including investigations into murder, car accidents, drug trafficking and the proliferation of child pornography.

"We still have one of those killer's phones that we have not been able to open," Comey said in reference to the San Bernardino attack on Dec. 2.

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FBI director says investigators unable to unlock San Bernardino killer's phone content
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: Inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly the recent mass shootings, lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A Quran sits in the living room inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: An identification card for Syed Farook inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A hole in the ceiling could be seen inside the closet area of the rear bedroom inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A baby crib is seen inside the baby room of the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings, lived, on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A firearm lubricant could be seen in the closet of the front bedroom inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: Media reporters go in and out of the townhouse where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A praying mat and a cleared out closet in the baby room in the front of the apartment. A rare first glimpse inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly the recent mass shootings, lived, on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: Prayer beads are seen laying on the bed alongside personal documents in the rear bedroom inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A closet inside the baby room. A rare first glimpse inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings, lived, on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A rare first glimpse inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings, lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A book sits on a table inside the home of San Bernardino mass murder suspect Syed Farook, December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists squeeze into a child's bedroom in the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the kitchen inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A television crew prepares to do a live report inside a child's bedroom in the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters take pictures of photographs found inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Baby food sits on a kitchen counter inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: A hatchet sits in a kitchen drawer inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Arabic books sit in a closet inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: An Islamic Manners book sits in a bedroom inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: A book about prayer sits on a bedside table inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Members of the media crowd into the apartment bedroom of San Bernardino shooting suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, in Redlands, Calif., Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited journalists into the townhouse. A book containing passages from the Quran is seen at right. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into a child's room in an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into the living room of an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into the living room of an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into a child's room in an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
A member of the media films a wall tapestry displaying religous writing in the living room of an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, launched the Islamic State-inspired attack with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, in the California town, leaving 14 dead.

Comey and other federal officials have long warned that powerful encryption poses a challenge for law enforcement and national security professionals.

Technology experts and privacy advocates counter that so-called "back door" access provided to authorities would expose data to malicious actors and undermine the overall security of the Internet.

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A study from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard released last month citing some current and former intelligence officials concluded that fears about encryption are overstated in part because new technologies have given investigators unprecedented means to track suspects.

The White House last year abandoned a push for legislation that would mandate U.S. technology firms to allow investigators a way to overcome encryption protections, amid rigorous private sector opposition. But the issue has found renewed life after the shootings in San Bernardino and Paris.

Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the intelligence panel, have said they would like to pursue encryption legislation, though neither has introduced a bill yet.

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