The iPhone unlocking tool used by the FBI to unlock the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5c can only be used on “a narrow slice of phones” the agency admitted.
FBI director James Comey revealed that litigation between Apple and the federal government has ended, but the tool the agency purchased to unlock the device does not work on the iPhone 5s or newer iPhones, including the iPhone SE.
“The people we bought this from, I know a fair amount about them, and I have a high degree of confidence that they are very good at protecting it, and their motivations align with ours,” said Comey.
Apple fought a legal battle against the FBI after a federal order that it assist the government in unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone by weakening the security of iOS. Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted that doing so would go against the company’s First Amendment rights, and put millions of users in danger.
Once the FBI announced in March that it had found a third party that could unlock the iPhone for them, the case was dropped. Apple has insisted that the feds reveal how they hacked the iPhone, however, James Comey says the FBI is still considering whether it should tell Apple.
“We tell Apple, then they’re going to fix it, then we’re back where we started from,” he said. “We may end up there, we just haven’t decided yet.”
The public battle between the FBI and Apple may have been called off, but the issue of balancing national security with privacy and encryption is still far from solved. With some senators proposing laws that would make it legal for the government to force companies to break their encryption, there’s bound to be more cases like this in the future.