Court says the FBI will be allowed to keep San Bernardino iPhone unlocking details a secret

As detailed in a new report from ZDNet, the FBI will not be required to disclose how it unlocked the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone early last year. The decision comes after several major news organizations filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit to reveal the tool and its price.

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In the ruling, federal judge Tanya Chutkan explained that revealing details about vendor and cost would “amount to putting a target on its back.”

“It is logical and plausible that the vendor may be less capable than the FBI of protecting its proprietary information in the face of a cyber-attack,” said the court. “The FBI’s conclusion that releasing the name of the vendor to the general public could put the vendor’s systems, and thereby crucial information about the technology, at risk of incursion is a reasonable one.”

It’s widely believed that the FBI worked with the Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite in unlocking the iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook. Specific details of how the device was unlocked, however, are still unclear.

Speculation was rampant as to how much the FBI paid for the unlocking tool, with some reports claiming just $15,000 and others over $1 million. The court likewise this weekend said that releasing the price would “designate a finite value” for the unlocking technology.

“Releasing the purchase price would designate a finite value for the technology and help adversaries determine whether the FBI can broadly utilize the technology to access their encrypted devices,” said the court.

Apple went toe-to-toe with the FBI over unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone 5c, saying that it didn’t have the technology to do so. Tim Cook called the creation of such a tool the “software equivalent of cancer” as the company stood firm on its decision not to help the FBI in the case.

“The only way we know would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the software equivalent of cancer. We think it’s bad news to write. We would never write it. We have never written it.”

The court ruling this weekend seems to be an attempt to finally put this case to rest for good, but whether or not that turns out to be true remains to be seen.

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Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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