More Frustrations for FBI Following Texas Shooter’s Phone Encryption

Interestingly the FBI refused the offer for assistance by Apple. According to national media, the investigation authority instead attempted to access the device through linked devices as well as cloud storage.

Those who have been following the recent Texas Church massacre can very well expect another bitter debate for tech companies to weaken phone encryption. Recently, gunman Devin Kelley, aged just 26, opened fire on the packed congregation of a Sutherland Springs church in Texas. 26 people were killed and many others injured.

Kelly himself later died from multiple gunshot wounds and at least one of them it is reported was self-inflicted. Initially, officials from various law enforcement agency refused to disclose the brand of his phone. This was because officials did not want to reveal which type of phone is resistant to breaching.

However, it was only after Apple agreed to offer assistance that the FBI confirmed that his phone was indeed an iPhone. Interestingly the FBI refused the offer for assistance by Apple. And, according to national media the investigation authority instead attempted to access the device through linked devices as well as cloud storage.

The attempt by the FBI has now shed more light on the problem of resilient encryption. The FBI has also admitted that it has a warehouse full of similar devices.

If Kelley’s phone was equipped with Apple’s Touch ID feature investigators could simply have tried to hold the dead man’s finger on the phone. But, they would have had to do this within 48 hours from the last time the phone was unlocked.

It should also be noted that Apple’s offer for assistance is a complete turnaround from previous requests for the manufacturer to help. This is because the company has long maintained that its devices are produced in such as way that Apple itself cannot access phone without the cooperation of its users.

Many believe that Apple’s contention may have been a ruse which would discourage law enforcement officials from continually requesting assistance. This is not the first time that accessing information from a phone has the attention of mass media. In 2015, FBI and Apple were also involved in a public spat following the San Bernardino shooting.

The company refused to create a backdoor for the law enforcement agency to break into the encrypted phone of the shooter. President Trump taking the side of officials called for a boycott against Apple. Eventually, the FBI hired another company at a cost of $1.3-million to successfully hack the phone.

The issue of phone encryptions has remained relevant since then. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney-general said that because the suspect is dead, nobody would have legitimate privacy interests in the phone. He added that even if he were alive and well, it would be legal for agencies to peruse content on the phone.

According to Rosenstein those who shoot innocent Americans should have their phone data and communications sorted through. But, Apple manufacturers have continually pushed back against weakening phone encryptions. It has said that by weakening system securities it customers would be vulnerable to criminal attacks.

There seems to be no solution in sight for law enforcement agencies’ problem with phone encryptions. It also seems as though this topic will be revisited time and again when there is a shooter with an iPhone.