Exclusive: U.S. Cops Have Wide Access to Phone Cracking Software, New Documents Reveal

While the FBI requests ‘backdoor’ iPhone access, documents indicate law enforcement already has easy access to encrypted devices

Michael Hayes
OneZero
Published in
9 min readJan 22, 2020

--

Photo Illustration, Source: Getty Images

AApple is once again facing pressure to give officials a “backdoor” into locked iPhones implicated in an act of domestic terrorism. Last week, Attorney General William Barr held a press conference asking the tech company to unlock and pull data from two iPhones belonging to a Saudi Air Force second lieutenant who opened fire at a Pensacola, Florida, military base in December.

The situation echoes another high profile case involving an iPhone used by a shooter in the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. In both cases, Apple has refused to provide a means for investigators to break through the encryption on its devices.

Barr recently complained that Apple had not provided “any substantive assistance” to officials and that the Pensacola case “perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) insists that it has been unable to open the phones of the Pensacola shooter.

OneZero sent Freedom of Information Act requests to over 50 major police departments, sheriffs, and prosecutors around the country.

But many police departments across the United States already have the ability to crack mobile devices, including the iPhone. While Apple may not provide official support to law enforcement agencies to access iPhones, third-party companies have stepped in to fill the void, allowing police to unlock and access information on encrypted mobile devices at a relatively low cost.

Over the past three months, OneZero sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to over 50 major police departments, sheriffs, and prosecutors around the country asking for information about their use of phone-cracking technology using requests developed by Upturn, a nonprofit focused on technology and justice. Hundreds of documents…

--

--