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Cellebrite asks cops to keep its phone hacking tech ‘hush hush’
August 23, 2023

Cellebrite asks cops to keep its phone hacking tech ‘hush hush’

Reading Time: 2 minutes

For years, cops and other government authorities all over the world have been using phone hacking technology provided by Cellebrite to unlock phones and obtain the data within. And the company has been keen on keeping the use of its technology ‘hush hush.’

‘We don’t really want any techniques to leak in court through disclosure practices, or you know, ultimately in testimony, when you are sitting in the stand, producing all this evidence and discussing how you got into the phone,’ the employee, who we are not naming, says in the video.

For legal experts, this kind of request is troubling because authorities need to be transparent in order for a judge to authorize searches, or to authorize the use of certain data and evidence in court. Secrecy, the experts argue, hurts the rights of defendants, and ultimately the rights of the public.

‘And anyone testifying about those products under oath must not hide important information that could help exonerate a criminal defendant solely to protect the business interests of some company,’ said Pfefferkorn.

The Cellebrite employee claims in the video that disclosing the use of its technology could help criminals and make the lives of law enforcement agencies harder.

‘It’s super important to keep all these capabilities as protected as possible, because ultimately leakage can be harmful to the entire law enforcement community globally,’ the Cellebrite employee says in the video. ‘We want to ensure that widespread knowledge of these capabilities does not spread. And if the bad guys find out how we’re getting into a device, or that we’re able to decrypt a particular encrypted messaging app, while they might move on to something much, much more difficult or impossible to overcome, we definitely don’t want that.’

‘We do not advise our customers to act in contravention with any law, legal requirements or other forensics standards,’ the spokesperson said. ‘While we continue protecting and expect users of our tools to respect our trade secrets and other proprietary and confidential information, we also permanently continue developing our training and other published materials for the purpose of identifying statements which could be improperly interpreted by listeners, and in this respect, we thank you for bringing this to our attention.’

When asked whether Cellebrite would change the content of its training, the spokesperson did not respond.

Cellebrite is not the first company that asks its customers to keep its technology secret.

For years, government contractor Harris Corporation made law enforcement agencies who wanted to use its cellphone surveillance tool, known as stingrays, sign a non-disclosure agreement that in some cases suggested dropping cases rather than disclosing what tools the authorities used. These requests go as far back as the mid 2010s, but are still in force today.

Here’s the full transcript of the training video:


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