Judge rules in FBI’s favour in San Bernardino terrorist iPhone case

2 Oct 20178 Shares

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The identity of the company that unlocked a terrorist’s phone won’t be revealed. Image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock

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The vendor who unlocked the iPhone related to the San Bernardino case will remain under wraps.

A federal judge ruled on Saturday (30 September) that the FBI is not obliged to disclose the name of the vendor and how much said vendor was paid by the government to hack into the iPhone of one of the terrorists behind the attack in San Bernardino, California, in 2015.

Vice News, Associated Press and USA Today filed a freedom of information lawsuit in order to gain knowledge of the process, but this ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful undertaking.

The FBI managed to access the contents of Syed Farook’s phone, who, with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in December 2015 in a mass shooting that was later deemed a terrorist incident.

Vendor would be targeted by revelation

According to ZDNet, judge Tanya Chutkan said that naming the vendor and the cost would amount to “putting a target on its back”, and could also endanger the hacking tool to theft or loss further down the line.

She said: “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 cyberattack.

“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.”

No room for appeals against FBI

There will be no allowance for appeals from the news organisations behind the original lawsuit, who wanted to find out how much the US taxpayer was billed for the unlocking process.

Apple and the FBI had been embroiled in a legal battle over the locked iPhone but eventually, the federal investigators were able to unlock the iPhone and access Farook’s information without the aid of the tech giant.

The identity of the company that unlocked a terrorist’s phone won’t be revealed. Image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com