FBI didn’t seek Ap­ple’s help to open shooter’s iPhone

The com­pany said it had of­fered to help the agency on Tues­day

The Mercury News Weekend - - BUSINESS - By Se­ung Lee slee@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Ap­ple and the FBI are at odds once again, days af­ter Air Force vet­eran Devin Kel­ley shot and killed 26 peo­ple in a Suther­land Springs, Texas church.

As the FBI strug­gled to ac­cess Kel­ley’s phone, which press re­ports said is an iPhone, the FBI did not ask Ap­ple for as­sis­tance in the first 48 hours af­ter the shoot­ing, ac­cord­ing to Reuters. The tim­ing may prove cru­cial if Kel­ley owned an iPhone with an en­abled Touch ID; the sen­sors rec­og­nize the own­ers’ fin­ger­prints — dead or alive — if used within 48 hours of the last lo­gin.

Once the 48 hours pass, the iPhone can only be ac­cessed with a pass­code. It is un­clear which iPhone model Kel­ley had and whether he had Touch ID en­abled.

Cu­per­tino-based Ap­ple is­sued a state­ment to Buz­zFeed News onWed­nes­day that the com­pany

had of­fered as­sis­tance to the FBI on Tues­day.

“Our team im­me­di­ately reached out to the FBI af­ter learn­ing from their press con­fer­ence on Tues­day that in­ves­ti­ga­tors were try­ing to ac­cess a mo­bile phone,” said Ap­ple. “We of­fered as­sis­tance and said we would ex­pe­dite our re­sponse to any le­gal process they send us.”

Ap­ple’s state­ments about reach­ing out to the FBI to offer as­sis­tance, and the sub­se­quent re­buff, matched with ear­lier re­port­ing from the Wash­ing­ton Post.

At a Tues­day press con­fer­ence, FBI Spe­cial Agent in Charge Chris Combs said that Kel­ley’s phone could not be bro­ken into and that it was flown to FBI head­quar­ters in Quan­tico, Vir­ginia. Combs drew a con­nec­tion be­tween Kel­ley’s phone and other past ex­am­ples, but he didn’t iden­tify the type of smart­phone Kel­ley owned.

“It high­lights an is­sue that you’ve all heard about be­fore, with the ad­vance of the tech­nol­ogy and the phones and the en­cryp­tions; law en­force­ment, whether that’s at the state, lo­cal or fed­eral level, is in­creas­ingly not able to get into these phones,” said Combs.

The fric­tion be­tween these two pow­er­ful Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions may lead to an­other es­ca­la­tion over the is­sue of en­cryp­tion in smart­phones.

In early 2016, the FBI and Ap­ple had an ac­ri­mo­nious and pub­lic feud over ac­cess­ing the iPhone of the San Bernardino mass shooter, Rizwan Fa­rook. Ap­ple’s un­will­ing­ness to help the FBI open that iPhone — fear­ing that it could com­pro­mise other iPhones’ se­cu­rity — was build­ing to be­come ama­jor court­room fight, un­til the FBI was able to crack the iPhone with a third-party tool in March.

There may still be one av­enue open for Ap­ple to as­sist the FBI. With a court or­der or war­rant, Ap­ple can hand over to law en­force­ment iCloud data and its ac­cess keys. If an iPhone user backs up an iPhone us­ing iCloud, the on­line data can con­tain texts, pho­tographs and other in­for­ma­tion from the phone.

Ap­ple did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on whether it can hand over iCloud data to law en­force­ment and whether such a war­rant or court or­der has been is­sued.


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