FBI Can Keep Details of iPhone Hack Secret, Rules Judge

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The FBI doesn't have to identify the company it contracted to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the 2015 California terror attack that killed 14 people, a federal judge ruled on Saturday (via Politico).

Three news organizations – USA Today, Associated Press, and Vice Mediasued the FBI last year under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to try to force the agency to reveal the name of the company and the amount it was paid to unlock the device.

In the original complaint, the news organizations argued that the public had a right to know how the government spent taxpayer funds in the case. They also claimed the existence of a flaw in the iPhone could be a danger to the public. However, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled this weekend that the information is exempt from mandatory disclosure under the government transparency law.

In her ruling, released Saturday night, Chutkan said the identity of the firm that managed to unlock the iPhone and the price it was paid to do so are classified national security secrets and constitute intelligence sources or methods that can also be withheld on that basis. She also ruled that the amount paid for the hack reflects a confidential law enforcement technique or procedure that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

A battle between Apple and the FBI began in early 2016 when Apple refused to help the government unlock shooter Syed Farook's iPhone 5c under the belief that it could set a bad precedent for security and privacy. The FBI didn't know what was on the device at the time, but believed that any information gathered could potentially help move the case of the San Bernardino attack forward in meaningful ways.

To break into Farook's iPhone 5c, the FBI later employed the help of "professional hackers" and reportedly paid upwards of $1.3 million for a tool exploiting a security vulnerability, a figure arrived at based on comments made by then-FBI director James Comey. The agency said it was not able to share with Apple the hacking methods used because it did not own the rights to the relevant technical details regarding the purchased technique.

The FBI has said the method used to break into the iPhone 5c does not work on the iPhone 5s and later, but it can be used to access iPhone 5c devices running iOS 9. It later revealed after the hack that nothing on the phone relevant to the investigation was found.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

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39 months ago
NSA listens in on all mobile comms... so FBI flushes 1.3 million taxpayer bucks for a hack that only works in one type of phone.

So for for those playing along at home, Federal government operates both illegally and totally stupidly. But sure let’s give them more authority over [insert partisan topic]. :rolleyes:
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
39 months ago

It’s probably already patched anyway

The FBI messed up by going wide with this and making a big spectacle. They should have just kept it within the intelligence community/private contractors rather than trying to compel Apple of all companies to “unlock” it. But I guess this is the nature of security theater.

That wasn’t their end game. Their end game with Apple was to set a legal precedent to be used later. If they forced Apple to capitulate it would have led to weaker security plus a case law basis to strong arm any company in a similar manner. Doesn’t matter what your political persuasion: governments always want to know what you’re doing and when.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
39 months ago
It’s probably already patched anyway

The FBI messed up by going wide with this and making a big spectacle. They should have just kept it within the intelligence community/private contractors rather than trying to compel Apple of all companies to “unlock” it. But I guess this is the nature of security theater.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
39 months ago
Well I say bring it to the Supreme Court
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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39 months ago
Land of the free, he he he....
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
39 months ago

But old fashioned police didn’t have to deal with terror cells organised over the internet.
The fact they didn’t get any information is really neither here nor there.

So we should all give up our freedoms to pretend to feel safe from a government that cares only about control and justifying its own existence but not one bit about protecting anyone at all?
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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