Apple says it received no request from the FBI to assist in unlocking the iPhone used by the Texas shooter, Devin Patrick Kelly. In the horrific incident on Sunday, around 26 were dead at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas when Kelly (now-deceased) opened fire.
Apple “immediately” offered help
In a press conference on Tuesday, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said the agency has not been able to access the information on Kelly’s iPhone. Combs also indirectly blamed Apple, saying industry standard encryption is making it harder for them to get into the devices of criminals.
“Law enforcement is increasingly not able to get into these phones,” Combs said.
Apple, on the other hand, says that it immediately contacted the FBI after they became aware from the press conference that the agency was working to access the Texas shooter’s phone.
“Our team immediately reached out to the FBI … We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us,” Apple told Business Insider.
Earlier, a report from Reuters stated that the FBI had not asked Apple for any assistance, even during the critical 48-hour window, when Kelly’s fingerprint could have been used to unlock his iPhone via Touch ID. However, Touch ID stops working after 48 hours if the phone has not been unlocked, and then the user has to type in the passcode for accessing the device.
Separately, the Washington Post reported that an FBI official did confirm about Apple reaching out, but at the time, the agency was looking for other methods to access the data on the iPhone.
Texas shooter case reignites San Bernardino debate
The latest tussle brings to mind how, in 2016, Apple and the FBI locked horns over the iPhone used by Syed Farook, a terrorist associated with an attack in San Bernardino. At the time, the Cupertino, California-based company appealed against the court ruling that ordered it to assist the FBI in accessing the security features on the device. However, later, the investigating agency abandoned the idea of pursuing the court battle stating that it was able to unlock the data on its own.
FBI director, Christopher Wray, previously noted that there are about 7,000 smartphones that cannot be accessed, and encryption technologies are blocking their efforts to fight terrorism and crime. Also, certain levels of encryption make it impossible to access the phone even after a court order.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance notes that the inaccessible devices have hindered investigations in some of the most serious cases such as murder and sex crimes, according to USA Today. Just last year, the district attorney reported that 423 iPhone and iPads seized since October 2014 have been inaccessible to investigators because of default encryption.
On the other hand, patrons of privacy argue that such encryption keeps hackers and thieves at bay, and the government should look for some other way to access the information. Congress, however, has shown a relaxed attitude so far in tackling the problem, according to the Chicago Tribune.