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FBI agrees to try to hack iPhone, iPod in Arkansas murder case

The trial of a teen murder suspect has been postponed a day after the FBI says it cracked the defenses of an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The FBI will try to crack an iPhone and iPod belonging to two teen murder suspects in Arkansas.
James Martin/CNET

Fresh off cracking a terrorist's iPhone, the FBI has agreed to help prosecutors in Arkansas unlock an iPhone and iPod belonging to two teenagers accused of murder.

Cody Hiland, a prosecuting attorney in Faulkner County, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the FBI had approved a request from his office and the Conway Police Department to crack the devices' defenses. It wasn't immediately clear if the federal law enforcement agency would use the same method to unlock the devices as used in the San Bernardino case.

The FBI and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The request was approved just days after the US Department of Justice said Monday it had successfully accessed data on a phone used by a terrorist in December's attack in San Bernardino, California, with the help of a third party. As a result, it said it no longer needed Apple's assistance in unlocking the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, and it asked that the order compelling Apple to assist in the case be vacated.

The FBI hasn't said how it cracked the San Bernardino shooter's phone, but its actions have left Apple in a precarious position. The company worries that method used by the government to crack the iPhone could end up in the hands of hackers or criminals, putting all iPhones at risk. Without knowing how the government unlocked the phone, Apple also faces the challenge of figuring out how to better secure its top-selling product to prevent future decryption attempts.

A day after the Justice Department announced Monday it had cracked the iPhone without Apple's assistance, an Arkansas judge agreed to postpone the trial of 18-year-old Hunter Drexler so prosecutors could seek the FBI's assistance. Prosecutors believe the devices may hold evidence related to the murders last July of Robert and Patricia Cogdell. Also charged in the murders is 15-year-old Justin Staton, who the Cogdells raised as their grandson, according to the AP.

This isn't the only case in which prosecutors are trying to gain access to the contents of an iPhone. A Justice Department request that the electronics maker unlock an iPhone linked to an accused drug dealer in New York was denied in February, but the Justice Department is appealing that decision.