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It has begun: The FBI will unlock other iPhones in criminal investigations

Published Mar 31st, 2016 7:15AM EDT

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We were wondering whether the FBI will agree to use in other cases the same hack that unlocked the San Bernardino iPhone just earlier this week, and it turns out the agency is more than willing to share its newly acquired know-how to help other law enforcement agencies solve their on-going investigations. Just days after it confirmed it didn’t need Apple to access the local files of the iPhone 5c that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters, the FBI agreed to assist an Arkansas prosecutor unlock an iPhone and iPod that may contain relevant evidence to a double homicide case.

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The FBI on Wednesday agreed to help Arkansas police, The Associated Press reports, just a day after a prosecution convinced a court to postpone the trial of the two suspects in the double murder case so that inquiries can be made on whether the FBI would want to help.

It’s somewhat surprising to see the FBI offer its iPhone unlocking services as fast – and that’s also rather scary, suggesting that the capabilities of the method divulged to the Bureau by a third party are quite powerful.

It’s too early to tell whether the FBI will be compelled to share details about how it got into the iPhone, and reports recently revealed the agency isn’t hurrying to tell Apple about the security issue, or to aid other similar cases.

In fact, just the other day, reports detailed a murder case the police hasn’t been able to solve for almost a year where an iPhone could contain the kind of information that could lead to an arrest. The prosecutor overseeing that case also asked for the FBI’s assistance in light of the recent iPhone hack.

In the Arkansas case, two teenagers aged 18 and 15 will be trialed as adults for the murder of Robert and Patricia Cogdell last July. The Cogdell raised 15-year-old Justin Staton as their grandson. His accomplice is 18-year-old Hunter Drexler, and the two may have used an iPhone and iPod to communicate.

Drexler’s iPhone has been in the possession of prosecutors since July when the suspect was brought in with two other teenagers days after the shootings. Staton’s iPod was placed in the defense’s evidence locker, with the attorney being ordered last week to hand it over.

Prosecutors say that recorded phone conversations between Staton and others since the arrest suggest that he used the iPod to communicate plans about the homicide plans.

Drexler and Staton pleaded not guilty to capital murder, aggravated robbery, and other charges. Their defenders are not concerned with the contents of the seized iOS devices at this time.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.