FBI wants $38 million in new funding to break encryption

The funding bid will help the agency "develop and acquire tools" that break encryption.

(Image: Lous Lanzano/AP)

The FBI is looking to spend an additional $38.3 million in the coming year to "counter the threat" of encryption.

That's on top of $31 million already spent on the initiative, according to the agency's fiscal 2017 budget request published earlier this week by the Justice Department.

The budget request will not be used to hire any new staffers on top of the 39 staffers (including 11 agents), but will be used to "develop and acquire tools for electronic device analysis, cryptanalytic capability, and forensic tools."

In other words: the feds want access to your encrypted communications, and it's willing to throw money at doing exactly that.

According to the document, the additional funding will "counter the threat of Going Dark, which includes the inability to access data because of challenges related to encryption, mobility, anonymization, and more."

The FBI refers to "going dark" as a metaphor for not being able to read the communications and messages of suspected criminals and terrorists.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking what exactly the combined $69.3 million on anti-encryption efforts would entail.

The FBI is known to buy exploits from private intelligence companies, like the Milan, Italy-based Hacking Team, which last year was hit by hackers who leaked documents detailing the company's work and global government partners.

In one case, the FBI was said to have bought tools from the company to help unmask users of Tor, the anonymity network, used by activists to keep private but also known to criminals to help conduct their business.

Encryption, and other privacy tools are increasingly troublesome for the agency, something FBI director James Comey has repeatedly claimed in the past year.

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The agency chief has been on a tear trying to convince lawmakers and technology giants alike that locking the agency out is making it harder to catch criminals, despite reports suggesting the complete opposite.

Comey's anti-encryption rhetoric intensified after Apple rolled out encryption in its iPhones and iPads in iOS 8, thought to be in response to claims in documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden that said Apple was a participant in the notorious PRISM surveillance program. In doing so, Apple put encryption in the hands of its users, cutting even itself out of the loop, which riled the FBI which would regularly ask for the company's help in unlocking criminals' phones.

The bump in funding comes as the agency continues to realign its efforts to keep ahead of the technological curve.

The document also said the agency would spend an additional $85.1 million on its cyber offensive and defensive operation.

"The FBI will obtain updated and sophisticated IT hardware, IT software, and contractors to expand the foundation of its offensive and defensive operations," the report said.