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Federal Bureau of Investigation unable to break into Texas church gunman's cellphone

09 November, 2017, 03:19 | Author: Nadine Todd
  • Cindy Wyatt leaves flowers Tuesday at a memorial for the First Baptist Church shooting victims in Sutherland Springs. Wyatt who is from Sutherland Springs is a member of the First Baptist Church in La Vernia which is said to have a close relationship

David Kelley's iPhone was sent to the FBI's crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, following the shooting as local authorities were not able to unlock it.

Apple refused the court order for months, arguing that doing so would set a unsafe precedent in the trade-off between user privacy and security versus national security.

Technology companies insist that strong security based on data-scrambling encryption is essential to protecting digital privacy.

The report added that Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had engaged in "preliminary conversations" about the device, but no formal request for assistance has been made, while Federal Bureau of Investigation agents try to determine if there are other ways to access the phone's data, such as through a backup of the phone's contents.

The FBI's Christopher Combs, speaking at a news conference in Texas today, said law enforcement has so far not been able to access the encrypted contents of the smartphone used by mass murderer Devin Patrick Kelley.

Combs wouldn't say what kind of phone the gunman had, but The Washington Post reported, citing sources familiar with the matter, that the device was an iPhone.

That time frame may have been critical because Apple's iPhone "Touch ID" - which uses a fingerprint to unlock the device - stops working after 48 hours.

The FBI has the Texas church shooters' cellphone - but can't access it because it's locked, officials revealed Tuesday. If Kelley had used a fingerprint to lock his iPhone, Apple could have told officials they could use the dead man's finger to unlock his device, so long as it had not been powered off and restarted.

"They're in the business of protecting the privacy of the individuals who use their phones", said Ajay Arora, CEO and co-founder of Vera, an encryption software company.

The case is reminiscent of the Apple-FBI legal feud past year, in which the Justice Dept. sought to compel Apple to build a backdoor to bypass the encryption on the iPhone that belonged to Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December 2015. In the case of the San Bernardino County shootings in December 2016, Apple has said the Federal Bureau of Investigation squandered an early chance to get the data. FBI investigators did not reach out to Apple and instead asked a county technician to reset the shooter's Apple iCloud password.

"If you remember from the [Steve] Jobs movie, he talked about a close ecosystem, from every point of it, is controlled by Apple, which makes it easier for them to control security levels", he said.

While FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned there are almost 7,000 phones that can not be opened, and those technologies are making it harder to fight terrorism and crime, Congress has shown little interest so far in tackling the issue.

The Trump Justice Department says it will take a tougher approach toward getting information but hasn't said how.

Law enforcement officials argue that encryption that prevents a police officer from opening a suspect's phone even with a court order makes it increasingly hard to solve murders and a host of other crimes; privacy advocates say that encrypted communications protect everyone from hackers and thieves and that the government should be able to find evidence through other means.

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