FBI took two months to crack Lev Parnas's iPhone 11, US says

The FBI is still trying to unlock other password-protected devices seized from Lev Parnas (above).
The FBI is still trying to unlock other password-protected devices seized from Lev Parnas (above).PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (BLOOMBERG) - It took the Federal Bureau of Investigation about two months to unlock the Apple iPhone 11 that was seized from Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The Justice Department on Tuesday (Jan 21) rebuffed allegations by a lawyer for Parnas that the government had delayed turning over the information extracted from his phone to "frustrate" his ability to comply with requests for the data from a congressional committee.

"First, Parnas declined to provide the password to his devices, which is of course his right, but which required the FBI to spend nearly two months unlocking the iPhone 11," the government said in a letter to the US District Judge J. Paul Oetken in Manhattan.

Apple news websites reported last week that the FBI used Cellebrite software to unlock the iPhone. Apple declined to comment.

The FBI is still trying to unlock other password-protected devices seized from Parnas, according to the letter. Adding to the delay, Parnas' attorney was unable to figure out how to open the extracted information on his own computer, the US said.

The lawyer, Mr Joseph Bondy, told the judge last month that he would turn over the iPhone data and other documents subpoenaed by the House committee investigating President Donald Trump. Parnas is a Ukrainian-born US citizen who is charged with illegally funnelling foreign money into US elections. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail.

Parnas had been working with Mr Giuliani to dig up political dirt in Ukraine on Mr Hunter Biden and his father, former vice-president Joe Biden, Mr Trump's top Democratic rival in next year's presidential election. Mr Trump's demand on a July phone call with Ukraine's leader to announce an investigation into the Bidens prompted the impeachment inquiry in the US.

The fact that the FBI was able to unlock the current model iPhone from Parnas may raise questions about claims by the Justice Department that the government needs Apple's help to unlock two older model iPhones that belonged to the terrorist who killed three sailors at a US Naval base in Florida last month.

Last week, Mr Trump pressured Apple to unlock iPhones belonging to the Florida shooter. The company has not helped the FBI enough to access data on the devices, according to US Attorney General William Barr.