U.S. Attorney General Asks Apple to Unlock iPhones Used by Florida Mass Shooter [Updated]
United States Attorney General William Barr today asked Apple to unlock the iPhones used in mass shooting last month at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, reports The New York Times.
The request comes as the shooting has been declared an act of terrorism, and it follows a report last week that the FBI sent a letter to Apple asking for help accessing two iPhones used by shooter Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.
"This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence," Mr. Barr said, calling on Apple and other technology companies to find a solution and complaining that Apple has provided no "substantive assistance."
Apple has already provided law enforcement officials with information from Alshamrani's iCloud account, but the two iPhones are passcode protected (one is also damaged from gunfire) and Apple has in he past taken a strong position against providing access to locked iPhones.
Apple last week said that it had already provided all of the information in its possession to the FBI.
We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.
Justice department officials claim to need access to the iPhones to see messages from encrypted apps like Signal or WhatsApp to find out if Alshamrani discussed his plans or had help.
In 2016, Apple had a major showdown with the U.S. government after being ordered by a federal judge to unlock the iPhone owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple fought hard against the order asking for backdoor access into iPhones and said that it would create "new and dangerous weaknesses" and that weakening security "makes no sense."
Apple ultimately won the dispute and the government found an alternate way to access the iPhone in question.
Apple is now facing a similar battle as the company's statement last week suggests it has no plans to unlock the two iPhones and the attorney general has said that he is prepared for a fight.
Update 6:43 p.m.: In a lengthy statement first shared by Input, Apple has responded to the Attorney General's comments, outlining the assistance it has provided and is continuing to provide to the the FBI, as well as its continued opposition to providing backdoors to its devices:
We were devastated to learn of the tragic terrorist attack on members of the US armed services at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida on December 6th. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and routinely work with police across the country on their investigations. When law enforcement requests our assistance, our teams work around the clock to provide them with the information we have.
We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.
Within hours of the FBI’s first request on December 6th, we produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation. From December 7th through the 14th, we received six additional legal requests and in response provided information including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts.
We responded to each request promptly, often within hours, sharing information with FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators. In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had.
The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance — a month after the attack occurred. Only then did we learn about the existence of a second iPhone associated with the investigation and the FBI's inability to access either iPhone. It was not until January 8th that we received a subpoena for information related to the second iPhone, which we responded to within hours. Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.
We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance. Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation.
We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys. Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users' data.
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