A federal court ruled that the FBI can keep secret the details of the hacking tool that it used to unlock the iPhone 5C of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino tragedy of 2015.
The incident sparked one of the most intense debates on cybersecurity and privacy in modern history, and with the recent ruling, the battle is apparently still ongoing.
FBI vs. Apple
The FBI retrieved the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December 2015 that left 14 dead. In its attempt to acquire any information that might help with its investigation, the FBI requested Apple to develop a backdoor that will bypass the encryption of the iPhone.
Apple adamantly refused to create the iPhone backdoor, forcing the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against the company to try to force it to participate. The government, however, eventually withdrew the case, not because it had a change of heart, but because it was able to acquire an iPhone hacking tool from a third-party vendor.
Three news organizations, namely USA Today, Vice News, and the Associated Press, filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act in September last year to know more details about FBI's hacking tool. It was unclear what exactly the hacking tool is able to accomplish, and whether the FBI will be able to keep using it in the future.
San Bernardino iPhone Hacking Tool Will Remain A Secret
Federal judge Tanya Chutkan denied the request by the news organizations, which means that the FBI will not have to reveal the vendor behind the iPhone hacking tool, nor the price that was paid for it.
Chutkan said that revealing the name of the vendor would put it at risk, as it might not be as secure as the FBI in protecting itself against cyberattacks that would try to steal the iPhone hacking tool. Chutkan also allowed the cost to be kept secret, though it was previously revealed by former FBI director James Comey that the iPhone hack cost was over $1 million.
The ruling to keep the iPhone hacking tool a secret will protect it from being the target of hackers. However, with the FBI able to keep it under wraps, privacy advocates will be worried that the bureau might be abusing the iPhone hacking tool to bypass systems put in place to protect the privacy of citizens.
As with the case of whether or not Apple should create a backdoor through iPhone encryption, keeping the details of the iPhone hacking tool a secret also has arguments that go both ways.