The FBI has promised to offer police departments technical assistance in unlocking iPhones connected to criminal cases.
In a letter — which was obtained by BuzzFeed — the FBI says it will do what it can to help other law enforcement agencies.
Written by FBI Office of Partner Engagement assistant director Kerry Sleeper, the letter says:
Since recovering an iPhone from one of the San Bernardino shooters on December 3, 2015, the FBI sought methods to gain access to the data stored on it. As the FBI continued to conduct its own research, and as a result of the worldwide publicity and attention generated by the litigation with Apple, others outside the U.S. government continued to contact the U.S. government offering avenues of possible research. In mid-March, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking the iPhone. That method for unlocking that specific iPhone proved successful.
We know that the absence of lawful, critical investigative tools due to the “Going Dark” problem is a substantial state and local law enforcement challenge that you face daily. As has been our longstanding policy, the FBI will of course consider any tool that might be helpful to our partners. Please know that we will continue to do everything we can to help you consistent with our legal and policy constraints. You have our commitment that we will maintain an open dialogue with you. We are in this together.
The letter comes just days after the FBI announced it was successful in its bid to access data on the iPhone 5c of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino attackers, without any help from Apple.
The FBI, with the help of a third-party, was able to garner the encrypted data it had asked Apple to help it access. The agency has since dropped the court order commanding Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance.”
It is thought Israeli mobile forensic software firm Cellebrite was the one to aid the agency, although how it did so has not been revealed.