A United States magistrate judge in California has today directed that Apple must help the FBI break into the cell phone of the one go the men behind the fatal attacks in San Bernardino last December, NBC News reports. Last week, FBI Director James Comey complained that the government couldn’t break the encryption on the iPhone used by one of the gunmen.
At the time, it was unclear if the gunman used an iPhone or Android device, but today it has been confirmed that it was the former of the two and is an iPhone 5c. “We still have one of those killers’ phones that we haven’t been able to open. It has been two months and we are still working on it,” Comey said at the time. “I don’t want a back door. I would like people to comply with court orders,” he added.
“Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said in a 40-page filing today.
The filing goes on to say that Apple has to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to recover the gunman’s data and that it has five days to reply if it feels that doing so would be “unreasonably burdensome.”
In the filing, the court presents several methods that could be taken to access the data on the phone and in the gunman’s iCloud account. These methods include disabling the auto-erase function and allowing the FBI to attempt an unlimited number of passcodes to unlock the phone
Despite what the California judge says, Apple still likely won’t be able to access the device’s data. Last October, Apple told a federal judge that it has no way of accessing data on an iPhone that is locked with a passcode and running iOS 8 or later. Apple’s statement at the time came as a response to a request from the U.S. Justice Department asking if the company would help authorities access data on a seized iPhone.
With that said however, the filing claims that Apple has the “exclusive technical means” to allow the FBI to access the data on the smartphone:
“Despite … a warrant authorizing the search,” said prosecutors, “the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”
Apple has long stood firm on its stance to not to give access to user data. Tim Cook has repeatedly spoken out against software backdoors.