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FBI stays mum on whether data on terrorist's iPhone is useful

The feds waged a hard battle to access the contents of an iPhone tied to the San Bernardino shootings. They're not yet saying if they've found anything helpful.

Will the FBI find anything useful on a terrorist's iPhone that it fought so hard to access?
James Martin/CNET

What's inside Syed Farook's iPhone remains a mystery, at least for those of us not in the FBI's crime labs.

The FBI is saying only this much publicly: It has obtained data from the phone and is putting it to use, according to The New York Times. Whether that data is in any way meaningful is another matter.

"We're still working on that, I guess is the answer," the agency's general counsel, James Baker, told attendees at a privacy conference Tuesday.

The effort to crack the security of the iPhone 5C tied to Farook, one of the shooters in December's San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack, ignited a dramatic showdown between the FBI and Apple. After more than a month of public posturing and legal maneuvering, begun with Apple 's defiance of a court order, the confrontation effectively ended when the law enforcement agency found a third party that was able to unlock the phone.

The case opened a widespread debate over the pros and cons of encryption, the technology that scrambles data so it can only be read only by people with the right access, and its role in the balance between personal privacy and national security. Apple worried about creating a "backdoor" that could be used on millions of devices.

For the FBI, getting access to the iPhone was all about defeating terrorism.

"It was worth the fight to make sure that we have turned over every rock that we can with respect to the investigation," Baker said, according to the Times.

The FBI has not revealed to Apple the method used to unlock the iPhone, Baker said. And he wouldn't say for sure whether any data found on the phone would be shared with the public, stating only that "if and when it becomes appropriate to disclose it, we will."

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.