In one of the most high-profile “make the government look inept” cases in recent history, the FBI managed to break into a suspect’s iPhone. Correction: the FBI managed to scrape together enough money to pay a foreign firm to break into the phone. Now, after spending a reported $1.4 million (plus legal fees leading up to it) to get into that phone, the FBI has stated they will not reveal how it was done, in order to keep Apple from securing whatever vulnerability made it possible.
Apart from the threat to personal liberty and the monumental waste of taxpayer dollars (since the phone has reportedly not contained any useful information), the FBI has openly stated that the unlock for this particular model and operating system are not expected to work on other devices, or even other Apple devices. For its part, the tech company has fielded multiple requests to break into iPhones for law enforcement, and continues to refuse to create a single “click here to infiltrate” backdoor method for law enforcement to use whenever they see fit. After rejecting the sentiment that the agency should get into the hacking business, the FBI is calling for greater cooperation between privately-held companies and law enforcement.
That’s a very tricky request, considering the US Supreme Court’s ruling that mobile devices like smartphones are essentially the same as your house, at least as far as privacy and search and seizure laws apply. Law enforcement are not allowed to root through a suspect’s phone without a warrant, for example. Many users’ phones contain more incriminating information–like letters, photos, GPS tracking, and text messages–than a 21st century homeowner might keep on his property. And no matter how noble the cause or how dire the circumstances, the government cannot violate a suspect’s privacy and force him to incriminate himself. By that same token, a privately-held company has yet to comply with a court order to create a whole new mechanism by which to invade someone’s phone.