The director of the FBI may have just sent the American public rushing to Apple stores nationwide. James Comey, speaking about the tool the agency acquired to unlock the iPhone 5c used by the San Bernardino shooter, revealed that the tool does not work in phones that came out after the 5c.
That leaves a lot of phones in the clear, away from the FBI’s grasp. The list includes the iPhone 5s, 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, and the newest 4-inch iPhone, the SE. According to CNN Money, Comey admitted to students at Kenyon College in Ohio that the tool the FBI is using only works on “a narrow slice” of iPhones.
The FBI bought the tool from a private company, following a long and publicly drawn-out battle with Apple over whether the company should help the authorities gain access to iPhones.
The 5c in question was thought by the FBI to contain data vital to fighting future acts of terror. (Now that the phone has been accessed, it’s unclear whether the agency still believes its contents are useful.) The FBI got a court order demanding Apple develop a tool that could let the authorities make a number of passcode attempts in rapid succession, without incurring the wrath of the failed attempt timer.
When the FBI found a way to get into the phone without Apple’s help, it dropped the case. Little is known about the company the FBI turned to to gain assistance, but Comey did provide some insight into the sort of people they’re dealing with.
“The people we bought this from, I know a fair amount about them, and I have a high degree of confidence that they are very good at protecting it, and their motivations align with ours,” he said to the students.
For now, though, it seems that newer iPhones are safe from the fed’s prying eyes. Of course, we only have the FBI’s word on that. It’s entirely possible that the tool can unlock more iPhones, but that the authorities want to avoid tipping the public off. Then again, when has the government ever hidden anything from us?