COLUMBUS, Ohio (UPI) — FBI Director James Comey said the agency purchased “a tool” from a private party to access data on the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters.

Comey, in an address at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, said the legal battle between the U.S. government and Apple ended because “the government has purchased, from a private party, a way to get into that phone, 5C, running iOS 9” operating system. He said the same method could be used to help the agency and law enforcement nationwide in the future.

“I can imagine a world, maybe, where a local police department, in a case they can’t otherwise solve, can send us a device, with the understanding that we’re never going to testify, we’re never going to tell you how we opened it, so you’re never going to be able to use what’s on the phone as evidence, but it might be a lead to something that would be useful,” he said.

The FBI and Apple had tangled for months over access to the contents of Syed Farook’s iPhone 5C after he and his wife in December allegedly killed 14 people in a San Bernardino office party. The FBI wanted Apple to disable the iPhone’s features that reset the device and erased its contents after too many incorrect passcode entries. Apple refused on the grounds it would create security and privacy issues in the future. The issue launched protests worldwide. The FBI dropped its lawsuit once it unlocked the phone.

Comey did not provide details about how the tool worked, but said information would be “closely protected” by the FBI and the private company that established it. He said the technique is “quite perishable,” in part because iPhone 5C is a less popular model and Apple is continually changing software.

“The FBI is very good at keeping secrets. The people we bought this from I know a fair amount about them and I have a high degree of confidence” in their ability to keep the technique under wraps, Comey said.

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