LAPD hacked iPhone 5s as part of murder investigation

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Investigators have managed to unlock the iPhone 5s.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

After the FBI successfully hacked the iPhone 5c as part of the San Bernardino shooting case, newly-released court papers show that Los Angeles police investigators have obtained a method of unlocking its higher-end sibling, the iPhone 5s.

The iPhone 5s belonged to the dead wife of former The Shield actor Michael Jace, who was killed at the couple’s South L.A. home in 2014. The keycode security bypass took place last month, and was achieved with the help of an unnamed “forensic cellphone expert.”

The reason LAPD investigators wanted to access the iPhone 5s in this case came down to concerns that the actor and his wife carried out an argument “about their relationship” using messaging software on the phone. The information was considered important to the case, and Michael Jace’s attorneys were previously able to persuade the presiding judge to delay the trial by arguing that the iPhone should undergo a “more exhaustive search than [the] one initially conducted by police.”

An Apple technician was initially ordered to help police extract data from the phone by an L.A. judge in 2015, although this attempt failed. A subsequent attempt also failed and, worse, left the phone “disabled.” According to the L.A. Times‘ report:

“[I]n March, investigators [then] learned that a forensic cellphone expert could ‘override’ the security features and let authorities view the phone’s contents, according to the warrant. A senior investigator with the district attorney’s office was able to examine the phone in April, as was Jace’s private cellphone expert, the warrant states.”

It is not clear which version of iOS the phone was running, although the iPhone 5s and above are tougher to unlock than their predecessors due to something Apple calls its Secure Enclave, which refers to the single co-processor that handles encryption using its own secure boot and private encryption key software.

Apple has been staunchly opposed to hacking iPhones, or creating a security backdoor for law enforcement officials, on account of the fact that it would set a dangerous precedent with regards to privacy.