WASHINGTON – The FBI said Wednesday it would not disclose details of its hack of an iPhone used by one of the shooters in last year’s San Bernardino killing spree.
The federal law enforcement agency, which waged a court battle to compel Apple to help unlock the device, said the reason for its decision was a technical one: it did not have the details from the outside party.
“The FBI purchased the method from an outside party so that we could unlock the San Bernardino device,” said a statement from Amy Hess, the FBI’s executive assistant director for science and technology.
“We did not, however, purchase the rights to technical details about how the method functions, or the nature and extent of any vulnerability upon which the method may rely in order to operate.”
The FBI, which last month withdrew its court request and averted a hotly contested court ruling, paid more than $1 million to an unidentified third party to break into the phone.
The agency has not disclosed what it found on the phone, but has argued it was important for its investigation in a major national security case.
Some activists had argued that the FBI should disclose the method for breaking into the phone under a policy outlined by the US administration, known as the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which allows for the patching of software and hardware weaknesses to protect against hackers.
But Hess said that “currently we do not have enough technical information about any vulnerability that would permit any meaningful review under the VEP process.”
Apple and its backers had opposed the FBI’s efforts to force the iPhone maker to weaken its operating system, claiming that would open doors for hackers and others.
Hess said the FBI normally “must maintain confidentiality” about its actions on vulnerabilities but that it chose to make the matter public due to “the extraordinary nature of this particular case, the intense public interest in it, and the fact that the FBI already has disclosed publicly the existence of the method.”