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FBI helping local law enforcement unlock smartphones

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – The FBI is pledging to help local law enforcement unlock encrypted or blocked smartphones.

Local police haven’t made any requests to the FBI yet, but they aren’t ruling it out.

This all comes after federal investigators had a hard time unlocking the phone that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter.

“If the phone is locked and we can’t break the encryption, it’s a brick to us,” said Detective Paul Huff.

A brick that could be helpful to law enforcement when cracking a case.

Although Lafayette police have not needed assistance, the FBI is now available to help unlock smartphones.

Huff said it will be a useful service when needed.

“If it was a murder or some high-level felony, then that would be something we might ask the FBI to assist us on,” said Huff. “We’ve had several phones that have been locked, several phones related in different cases that we cannot break the encryption on.”

He said there have been many times where police were forced to resolve a case without any information from a phone, information he believes would have been useful.

“You know a lot of people aren’t even using computers rights now,” said ICAC educator Rachel Sitarz. “They’re just using tablets and phones and if we can’t get that data from a phone, are we just going to let the bad guys run on the loose?”

Police said the iPhone 4S is the last Apple model they can unlock.

Even when a victim wants a phone to be searched, Huff said Apple has even encrypted the unused.

“Say the victim gives us the phone and gives us the pass code and it’s unlocked we still can’t get deleted content,” said Huff.

“There’s legal means to get this data,” said Sitarz. “They’re not just getting it from anybody but I think it’s super important that they’re able to get this information.”

Sitarz previously worked as an Indiana State Police analyst, she says help from the FBI would be a great tool for local law enforcement.

“Training and tools and all of that with the whole cyber field is expensive and it’s hard,” said Sitarz.

Training that many smaller agencies can’t afford, and with assistance from the FBI, it could cut costs and help agencies out.