US non-profit sues FBI for info about phone hacking capability

Non-profit organisation American Civil Liberties Union is suing FBI demanding more information about its capability to gain access to information stored on personal mobile devices

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
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IANS

Non-profit organisation American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) demanding more information about its capability to gain access to information stored on personal mobile devices.

"The FBI is secretly breaking the encryption that secures our cell phones and laptops from identity thieves, hackers, and abusive governments, and it refuses to even acknowledge that it has information about these efforts -- even though some details have been filed publicly in federal court," ACLU said in a statement this week.

The non-profit said that publicly available information indicates that the Electronic Device Analysis Unit (EDAU), a team within the FBI, has acquired or is in the process of acquiring software that allows the government to unlock and decrypt information that is otherwise securely stored on cell phones.

Public court records also describe instances where the EDAU appeared capable of accessing encrypted information off a locked iPhone, it said.

The EDAU even sought to hire an electronics engineer whose major responsibilities would include "perform (ing) forensic extractions and advanced data recovery on locked and damaged devices."

And yet, the agency refuses to even confirm or deny the existence of any records pertaining to the EDAU, the ACLU said.

"Seeking some much-needed transparency, today we asked a federal court to intervene and order the DOJ (US Department of Justice) and the FBI to turn over all responsive documents pertaining to the EDAU," the organisation said.


"We're demanding the government release records concerning any policies applicable to the EDAU, its technological capabilities to unlock or access electronic devices, and its requests for, purchases of, or uses of software that could enable it to bypass encryption."

The FBI has repeatedly pressured Apple to build a backdoor into its system, most notably in the San Bernardino case, The verge reported on Wednesday.

The FBI had claimed that some of Apple's security features prevented it from accessing the contents of the work phone of one of the shooters in the 2015 San Bernardino attack before saying in 2016 that the agency no longer needed Apple's help in breaking into the iPhone.

Whether the FBI has gained the capability to break iOS encryption remains unclear, said the report.

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