Jan. 9 (UPI) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray said law enforcement agents are increasingly unable to gain access to encrypted cellphones for investigatory purposes, something he called a "major public safety issue" Tuesday.
He said that during the fiscal year ending in September 2017, the FBI was not able to access 7,775 mobile devices -- the largest share of devices it couldn't open since agents began accessing them for evidence.
"Each one was tied to a specific subject, a specific defendant, a specific victim, a specific threat," Wray said during a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York City. "We're increasingly unable to access that evidence, despite lawful authority to do so."
He called for tech companies to assist law enforcement gain access to encrypted devices and apps.
"Being unable to access nearly 7,800 devices in a single year is a major public safety issue," Wray added.
"We're not interested in the millions of devices of everyday citizens. We're interested in those devices that have been used to plan or execute terrorist or criminal activities."
In 2016, the Department of Justice sued Apple to provide access to the cellphone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, the man who opened fire at a San Bernardino facility, killing 14 people. Apple resisted, citing privacy concerns, and the FBI, under former Director James Comey, paid a hacker to break into the phone.
"We need to work together, the government and the private sector, to find a way forward, and find a way forward quickly," Wray said.
He said the agency wasn't looking for a "back door" that would allow them to access devices secretly. The information should only be accessed with a court order.