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FBI to law enforcement: ‘We can help unlock phones’

james comey encryption war far from over apple vs fbi
FBI offers to help local enforcement agencies unlock phones
Looks like the Feds won’t be needing Apple’s help in unlocking phones at all. The FBI advised U.S. law enforcement partners that it will help unlock phones involved with investigations as long as the assistance is in compliance with existing law. The advisory came in the form of a letter days after the U.S. Justice Department dropped legal action against Apple, when it tried to force the Cupertino company to help unlock an iPhone 5C, according to Reuters.

An unidentified third party helped the FBI unlock the iPhone used by terrorist Syed Farook in an attack in which he and his wife killed 14 and wounded 22 in San Bernadino, California in December. Subsequent to the phone’s being successfully cracked, the FBI withdrew its legal action against Apple.

Apple vs. the FBI: A complete timeline of the war over tech encryption

In the advisory to LEOs, the FBI stated it was aware of the wide attention received by its attempt to ask and then force Apple to help unlock the phone. The FBI wanted to assure all domestic partner law enforcement organizations of its willingness to share any tools that can aid investigations, within the constraints of law and policy.

The FBI stated that it was aware that the difficulty monitoring or investigating criminal communications when encrypted mobile devices are used is often beyond the capabilities of local law enforcement. In the spirit of working together, the FBI wanted to assure partners it will do what it can to aid investigations. “We are in this together,” wrote the FBI.

FBI’s disclosure on iPhone crack method may be up to White House review group

The withdrawal of legal action against Apple could be seen as a win for Apple. However, Apple has also asked for information on how the phone was cracked and the FBI has not shared its source nor the means used to unlock the phone. If the court action went forward it is possible Apple could force the FBI to disclose the source and the code or tools.

The public dispute between Apple and the FBI is a sidebar on the issues of digital privacy, public safety, and law enforcement’s need to protect against criminals and terrorist organizations that use encrypted information.

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Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Commerce teams. Bruce uses smart devices…
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