Sure, why not? FBI agrees to unlock iPhone for Arkansas prosecutor

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Last week a federal judge ordered Apple to write software that would allow law enforcement agencies investigating the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, to hack into one of the attacker's iPhone. Apple is fighting the order, saying it would create a way for hackers, foreign governments, and other nefarious groups to invade its customers' privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

The FBI, which just a few days ago was attempting to convince the country of its helplessness in the face of encrypted iPhones, has generously offered its assistance in unlocking an iPhone and iPod for a prosecutor in Arkansas, the Associated Press reports.

TechCrunch has contacted the prosecutor’s office for details, which for the moment are thin on the ground — but the timing seems unlikely to be a coincidence. It was only Monday that the FBI announced it had successfully accessed a phone after saying for months that it couldn’t possibly do so — and that Apple was endangering national security by refusing to help.

The case is the alleged murder of a couple by two teenagers, and the prosecution on Tuesday received a postponement to the trial in order to request help in unlocking the iPhone and iPod — something the lawyersdidn’t even know was possible until Monday. Amazingly, the FBI agreed to help the very next day, Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland told the AP. Court documents indicate that a “letter to Snapchat,” 10 pages of emails, and over 100 pages of “Facebook records” were being entered into evidence, so the defendant’s digital footprint isn’t exactly a total blank.

If the unlocking process being used by the FBI is so trivial that it can be offered on short notice to anybody asking nicely, that deeply contradicts the narrative the Justice Department has been building regarding the limitations of law enforcement in accessing encrypted phones.

Again, the specific details of the devices (model, OS version, etc.) are unknown, as is the exact nature of the FBI’s offered assistance. Until the court, prosecutor’s office, or defender files or volunteers further information (and we’ll be asking), this is fairly up in the air.

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