Apple and the FBI reportedly held “preliminary conversations” about the Texas gunman’s iPhone, but no formal request for assistance has been made.
(Image: file photo)
Apple and the FBI could be gearing up for another legal battle after authorities admitted they cannot get access to the phone that belonged to the Texas church gunman.
FBI special agent in charge Chris Combs told reporters Tuesday that the agency was trying to analyze the phone used by the gunman, Devin Kelley, in an effort to understand the motives of the attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday, in which the shooter opened fire and killed 26 people and wounded 20 more.
According to sister-site CBS News, the FBI flew the phone, obtained through a search warrant, to FBI headquarters.
But so far investigators have been unable to get into the device because it’s encrypted, said Combs.
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.
The report added that Apple and the FBI had engaged in “preliminary conversations” about the device, but no formal request for assistance has been made, while FBI 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.
Any formal request for help is likely weeks away, the report said, given how early the FBI is with its investigation.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
The case is reminiscent of the Apple-FBI legal feud last 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.
But the courts fell short of deciding whether or not companies like Apple could be forced to provide access to encrypted devices because the FBI found hackers who were able to obtain the data from the shooter’s phone.
Following a lawsuit by news organizations to reveal details of how the FBI obtained the data, a court ruled last month that the agency can keep the name of the hackers and the price of their work a secret.
The FBI continues to maintain that encryption “impacts investigations,” according to FBI director Christopher Wray.
Wray said the agency had more than 6,900 mobile devices in the past year that it couldn’t access, but did would not say how many investigations were directly harmed as a result.