Recently obtained emails by Motherboard reveal that an American organization, the San Diego Police Foundation bought an iPhone unlocking device for the city’s police department. The aforementioned organization gets donations from corporations like Wall Street banks and purchases various assault equipment, devices, and other paraphernalia required by the police department.
The finding reveals that in 2018 the Police Foundation bought ‘GrayKey’ for the San Diego police department. GreyKey is an iPhone unlocking device that determines the smartphone’s passcode authentication barrier and gives access to unauthorized individuals.
The San Diego Police Department Purchased GreyKey
Email correspondence of officials at the San Diego police department reveals that the department had purchased GreyKey in 2018. The email reads,
“The GrayKey was purchased by the Police Foundation and donated to the lab. Do you have any other documents related to the GrayKey? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on email@example.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EULA I sent you [is] for a software upgrade that will allow us to get into the latest generation of Apple phones. Our original license was a 1 year license agreement paid for by the Police Foundation.”
In 2019, two officers discussed buying the iPhone unlocking technology for the following year.
“This is the phone unlocking technique that the Police Foundation purchased for us (for 15k). Apparently the software ‘upgrade’ costs the same as the initial purchase each year. :/ They are the only ones that offer a tool that can crack iPhones, so they charge A LOT!,”
GreyKey- The iPhone unlocking technology
Manufactured by GrayShift, GrayKey is a series of devices that allow law enforcement agencies to bypass iPhone authentication barriers to unlock current iPhone models. The reason this technology is valuable for the agencies is that it bypasses the encryption which erases data on the devices in case of forceful intrusion. Thus, they are willing to pay a hefty amount for it.
“GrayShift offers an online version of its tool, which requires an internet connection and can be used a limited number of times; an offline version that can be used as many times as wanted; and a mobile version.”
To mitigate security vulnerabilities, Apple regularly upgrades its software to make it harder to unlock the smartphone via backdoor technology. Thus, the upgrade of the GrayKey is expensive and frequent.
The Cupertino tech giant takes users’ privacy very seriously. Apple devices do not store users’ data and make it very difficult to unlock their devices in case of theft, spying, and other miscreant activities. In 2016, Apple took a very stern stance and refused to create a backdoor to unlock the smartphone when the FBI pressurized it to unlock a suspect’s smartphone.
The American police are under public scrutiny over its abuse of power and systemic racial discrimination, after the brutal death of Geroge Floyd by a police officer. This report further questions the way police departments utilize funds to spy on citizens via illegal means. Senior director of criminal justice campaigns at Color of Change, Scott Roberts said,
“Our end goal is to have an intervention on the funneling of private money into police forces and into policing. If the police foundations existed to raise money for the families of fallen police officers, we wouldn’t say we need to abolish police foundations. It’s the specific type of work that they’re doing that we object to.”