By Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. FBI Director James Comey on Thursday made his strongest comments yet about encryption features built into new cell phones by Google Inc and Apple Inc, warning they could hurt law enforcement efforts to crack homicide and child exploitation cases.
Speaking before an audience at the Brookings Institution, Comey said the new phones, which limit the ability for the companies themselves to access data stored on the units, have "the potential to create a black hole for law enforcement."
FBI agents have in the past been able to access information stored on cell phones with a court order forcing the company to retrieve the information.
Comey said FBI agents have come across a growing number of cases they believe evidence sat on a phone or a laptop which they were unable to crack, though did not provide specific examples.
"If this becomes the norm, I suggest to you that homicide cases could be stalled, suspects walked free, child exploitation not discovered and prosecuted," he said.
Comey also urged Congress to update the law that governs law enforcement's ability to intercept communications, which was enacted two decades ago and does not address some newer technologies.
(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Doina Chiacu)