United States Attorney General William Barr is escalating the FBI’s disagreement with Apple over access to two iPhones used by the gunman behind last month’s shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The New York Times reports that Barr has declared the shooting an “act of terrorism” and is calling on Apple to provide assistance in the investigation.
“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. 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.”
Apple also doubled down on its stance that there is no such thing as a backdoor only for “the good guys.”
“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” the company explained. “Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. … We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.”
Here is the full statement:
— John Paczkowski (@JohnPaczkowski) January 14, 2020
The Times report calls Barr’s actions today an “unusually high-profile request” for an Attorney General to make. According to Barr, this situation is why it is “critical” for the public to be able to gain access to “digital evidence.”
As reported by last week, the FBI contacted Apple directly to ask for help unlocking the two iPhones used by the gunman, Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. Apple said that it shared data from iCloud backups of the phones with the FBI, but it has no way of accessing the physical devices themselves because they are passcode-protected.
Despite Apple helping to the fullest extent that it can without circumventing encryption, Barr said today that Apple has provided no “substantive assistance” in the investigation.
“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.”
Investigators say that they need access to the iPhones so they can access messages from encrypted services like WhatsApp and Signal. Having access to these messages will allow investigators to determine whether Alshamrani had coordinated the attack with others, they say. Investigators also believe that Alshamrani tried to destroy the iPhones once he began firing during the shooting, further suggesting that there is potentially critical information on the phones.
Today’s report from The New York Times cites “people close” to Apple who unsurprisingly say the company “will not back down from its unequivocal support of encryption that is impossible to crack.” Apple held its ground during the San Bernardino case, and it’s unlikely anything will change this time around.
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