Speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York Tuesday, the 50-year-old indicated that the FBI was unable to open a whopping 7,775 devices in fiscal year 2017 despite having court orders and the advanced technology to do so.
"We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence," Wray said at the conference. "Each one was tied to a specific subject, a specific defendant, a specific victim, a specific threat."
— FBI (@FBI) January 9, 2018
According to Wray, the inability to access cell phone data is part of the growing "going dark" problem, which he says impacts FBI investigations including human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, organized crime and child exploitation.
Though Wray indicated that he's not simply looking for a "back door" that gives agents the chance to get their hands on content secretly, he says a solution would be app developers and law enforcement officials working together to obtain information after being given a court order to proceed.
This is an initiative that would require "significant innovation," he added.
"At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to protect our innovation, our systems, and above all, our people," the FBI director said.
But Wray's calls for help from the tech industry aren't exactly new — the agency has long argued that they should be able to get into phones in order to strengthen national security. During his reign, James Comey, the former FBI head, even launched a court fight against Apple to get access to a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.
"The San Bernardino litigation isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice," Comey said in a letter posted on Lawfare Blog in February 2016. "The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve."
"We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That's it. We don't want to break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land," Comey added.
The agency was eventually able to jailbreak the phone with help from a private party, NBC News reported.
Despite Wray's hopes, the move is still very much resisted by tech companies who fear the privacy of Americans could become compromised.