A statement by the FBI has raised the possibility of a second legal battle with Apple in a very similar case to the San Bernardino shooting. Wired reports that an FBI agent speaking about the case of the man who stabbed 10 people in a Minnesota mall last month has said that the agency was considering legal as well as technical options.
At a press conference in St. Cloud, Minnesota today, FBI special agent Rich Thorton said that the FBI has obtained the iPhone of Dahir Adan, who stabbed 10 people in a Minnesota mall before a police officer shot and killed him. (The fundamentalist militant organization ISIS claimed credit for the attack via social media.) As in Farook’s case, the attacker’s phone is locked with a passcode. And Thorton said the FBI is still trying to figure out how to gain access to the phone’s contents.
“Dahir Adan’s iPhone is locked,” Thornton told reporters, “We are in the process of assessing our legal and technical options to gain access to this device and the data it may contain.”
The similarities in the two cases are notable …
In both cases we have a locked iPhone belonging to a now-dead killer with suspected links to ISIS.
Given that the FBI is now well aware of Apple’s commitment to resisting extraordinary measures to access the phone, the smart money is on the agency finding a technical solution this time, as it did previously. There is now evidence that other law enforcement agencies have been able to access iPhones in similar circumstances, and it has been demonstrated that an approach rejected by the FBI in the San Bernardino case would in fact have worked.
In the previous case, it had always seemed unlikely that the iPhone in question would contain anything of value, as it was a work phone and the killers had been careful to destroy their own devices. In the event, the FBI did later admit that nothing significant was found, though it argued that the exercise was still worthwhile.
Apple took an extremely strong stand against the FBI’s demand that it compromise iOS security by creating a weakened version of the operating system that would permit access to the device. Things even reached the stage of Apple engineers stating that they would refuse to carry out the work and would quit the company if necessary.
We don’t yet know which iPhone model is involved, nor which version of iOS it is running, both factors that would play a significant part in determining how easy or difficult it is to crack. But given the history, we’re expecting this case to fade quietly away as the FBI finds a way to access the phone without Apple’s assistance …