Attorney General Loretta Lynch is asking Congress for $38 million to help the federal government maintain access to communications that are fading from the reach of law enforcement.
Known as the "going dark problem," Lynch told a House budget hearing Wednesday that it "is a very real threat to law enforcement's mission to protect public safety and ensure that criminals are caught and held accountable."
She made no direct reference to the current court battle between the FBI and Apple over access to the contents of an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers. But she said if a judge finds a reason to believe that "a certain item contains evidence of a crime" and issues a warrant, then investigators are entitled to that material.
When the government needs the help of "third parties" to ensure that the search is carried out, "judges all over the country and on the Supreme Court have said that those parties must assist if it is reasonably within their power to do so.
"That's all we're asking, and we owe it to the victims and the public whose safety we must protect to ensure we have done everything under the law to fully investigate terrorist attacks on American soil."
The administration's total request for the Justice Department is $29 billion, including funds to begin work on a new building to house the FBI.