Will Apple again find itself at odds with authorities in a high-profile case involving unlocking a gunman’s iPhone?
The gunman in the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas earlier this month was found with an iPhone, and Texas authorities have served Apple with a warrant seeking access to his information.
This might bring to mind another infamous mass shooting that thrust Apple and an iPhone into the spotlight — the 2015 San Bernardino attack in which Apple refused the FBI’s request to fashion a “back door” to unlock one of the shooters’ iPhones. The Silicon Valley giant’s reason: It did not want to compromise other iPhone users’ privacy and security.
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In this case, though, Apple says it offered help to the FBI after the shooting, saying it would “expedite” a response to “any legal process they send us,” according to BuzzFeed, which obtained a statement from Apple.
However, the FBI reportedly did not take Apple up on its offer within 48 hours, which means the time for accessing the iPhone using Touch ID — without a passcode — has passed.
Apple’s legal-process guidelines for law enforcement state that the company may provide iCloud content to authorities who show probable cause. But when it comes to physically unlocking an iPhone without knowing the passcode, the guidelines say: “For all devices running iOS 8.0 and later versions, Apple is unable to perform an iOS device data extraction as the data typically sought by law enforcement is encrypted, and Apple does not possess the encryption key.”
The warrants obtained by Texas authorities seek the digital photos, messages and files from the iPhone and iCloud account of Devin Patrick Kelley, the San Antonio News-Express reported last week.
Kelley killed 26 people and injured 20 others in the Nov. 5 shooting massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. He was then found dead in his car; authorities say he killed himself.
The newspaper also reported that another phone was found in Kelley’s car: a “low-tech LG 328BG,” and that officials also want to search that phone for evidence.
A Texas Ranger obtained the warrants related to information stored on Kelley’s iPhone SE on Nov. 9, according to the newspaper, which also said court records do not show whether the authorities have accessed the files.
Apple has not yet returned SiliconBeat’s request for comment.
After the San Bernardino attack, Apple’s refusal to help the FBI unlock the dead shooter’s iPhone set off a debate about encryption and law enforcement. The FBI eventually found a way — by buying a tool from hackers — to unlock the iPhone of Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Mailik, killed 14 people at a workplace event for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.
An FBI agent in charge of the investigation complained about not being able to get into Kelley’s phone during a news conference two days after the shooting rampage.
“It highlights an issue that you’ve all heard about before, with the advance of the technology and the phones and the encryptions [sic], law enforcement, whether that’s at the state, local or federal level, is increasingly not able to get into these phones,” Christopher Coombs said Nov. 7.
Photo: Sheree Rumph of San Antonio prays over two of the crosses erected in memory of the 26 people killed in a shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. The shooting took place during a service Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Tags: Apple, Encryption, iCloud, iPhone, shooting, Texas