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FBI lawyer refuses to say whether data extracted from San Bernardino iPhone is 'useful'

After engaging Apple in a high-profile court battle to unlock a terror suspect's iPhone, the FBI remains mum as to whether or not data gleaned from the device is "useful" to investigators.




During an interview at Tuesday's International Association of Privacy Professionals conference in Washington, FBI lawyer James A. Baker said data extracted from an iPhone linked to San Bernardino terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook is being applied to the agency's ongoing investigation, reports The New York Times. He was less forthcoming when asked if the phone contained useful information.

"We're still working on that, I guess is the answer," Baker said, adding, "It was worth the fight to make sure that we have turned over every rock that we can with respect to the investigation. We owe it to the victims and the families to make sure that we pursue every logical lead."

While the iPhone's contents may never be aired publicly, many are curious to find out if the government's bid to force Apple's assistance in breaking into the device was worth the effort. The Justice Department never claimed to know what was stored on Farook's iPhone, if anything, but federal prosecutors and other law enforcement officials used this uncertainty to their advantage.

In court filings and various public forums, the government manufactured an air of urgency, suggesting the target iPhone might reveal co-conspirators or other terrorist cells operating on U.S. soil. A particularly infamous amicus brief lodged early on by San Bernardino District Attorney Michael A. Ramos claimed the device might hold evidence of a "dormant cyber pathogen."

Arguments on both sides were rendered moot when an unnamed third party —rumors point to Israeli firm Cellebrite —helped the FBI crack, bypass or otherwise thwart Farook's passcode and extract the phone's data.

As the DOJ withdrew its motion to compel Apple's assistance, the company was not privy to any information regarding the working iPhone exploit. Apple has maintained that the mere existence of an iOS encryption workaround puts hundreds of millions of devices in danger of infiltration. Baker said that while the FBI has discussed the issue with company executives, it has "not shared the solution with Apple to date."