The government, meanwhile, said its iPhone cracking technique applies only to a “narrow slice” of devices.
The stand-off between Apple and the FBI started long before the San Bernardino attack.
It reportedly dates back to 2008, when a federal judge ordered Cupertino to assist the government in unlocking an iPhone used in a child sex abuse case, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Amanda and Christopher Jansen, a young married couple from Watertown, New York, were under investigation for possession of child pornography, as well as the alleged drugging and rape of three of their children.
After their arrest in September 2008, the pair’s iPhone was found in a diaper bag. According to the Journal, Apple not only complied with an iPhone unlocking request, “it helped prosecutors draft the court order requiring it to do so,” in what appears to be the first case in which the All Writs Act was used to justify an unlocking request.
Over the years, Apple has helped federal agents access more than 70 handsets.
But that became more of a technical challenge once it introduced encryption by default with iOS 8.
Cracking today’s handsets would require Cupertino to create an entirely new operating system, something it refused to do for the iPhone 5c used by the San Bernardino shooter, Syed Farook.
Ultimately, the FBI was able to crack the shooter’s iPhone, but the FBI admitted that its recent method for unlocking it works only on “a narrow slice” of devices.
In a speech Wednesday at Kenyon College in Ohio, FBI Director James Comey said the agency purchased a third-party tool that applies exclusively to an iPhone 5c running iOS 9.
“This doesn’t work in [the iPhone 6], it doesn’t work in [iPhone] 5s,” he told the crowd.
Still, the FBI has not shared details about the tool it used with apple.
According to Comey, discussions are ongoing, but the agency is concerned that Apple will patch the hole, and “we’d be right back where we started.”
“The notion that privacy should be absolute … to me just makes no sense given our history and our values,” the director said during his speech. “In my view, privacy and security didn’t end in 2014, and we are not ending it today.”
Apple did not immediately respond to PCMag’s request for comment.
There has been some speculation that the FBI received assistance from Israeli security firm Cellebrite to unlock the phone, but neither party has confirmed that information.
Comey’s speech came the day after Facebook-owned WhatsApp enabled full end-to-end encryption—a move Apple and Google made in 2014.