Pensacola Shooting

Pensacola Shooting: Technical Feud Between FBI and Apple Repeats History

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The Pensacola shooting was announced an act of terrorism, but the investigations still remain hanging in the air. Although Attorney General William P Barr, along with the FBI, announced that Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani’s attack was motivated by “Jihadist ideology”, they still are waiting to examine the two apple iPhones of the gunman.

In a press conference on Monday, Barr highlighted that the FBI sent a letter to Apple asking for them to assist in unlocking the phones. However, the technical developer refused to break into the password-protected iPhones of the suspect in Pensacola shooting at a Navy base on December 6.

Apple also disputed Barr’s review that the company failed to assist the law enforcement. “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,” Apple said in a statement.

“So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance,” Barr stated during Monday’s press conference. “This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause. We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks.”

The company stated that it “produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation” on FBI’s request on December 6, and also provided “gigabytes of information” including “iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts” on further requests.

However, it denied to crack into the phones — an iPhone 7 and iPhone 5 — of the Saudi national and military trainee, Alshamrani, who was killed after he shot down three American sailors and injured eight others.

Apple’s decision was indicative of the investigations into the 2016 San Bernardino shooting, when the company similarly denied to breach its data privacy policy until FBI was able to crack into the phone without its help. At the time, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook had argued that the FBI’s request lays dangerous paradigm, where the authorities could demand a backdoor into any person’s device in future.

A repeated scenario, Apple’s denial could also put federal law enforcement in opposition to the company for arguing over data privacy of the criminals in the court, yet again.

The refusal to unlock Alshamrani’s phone prompted the President to join the administration that called out on Apple to assist in the investigation into the gunman. Donald Trump took to Twitter and lambasted Apple for denying FBI’s request.

“We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements,” Trump wrote. “They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country, NOW! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

With his mentions of “helping Apple”, Trump was referring to the negotiations between Apple CEO Tim Cook and the White House over exemptions from planned tariffs on good imported from China, as the products of the firm are majorly manufactured in Beijing.

The FBI had sent the letter to Apple’s general counsel, after they failed to guess the “relevant passcodes” to unlock the iPhones of the Saudi national.

During the 2016 California case, the FBI had unlocked the suspect’s iPhone with a third party’s assistance. The then FBI Director James Comey had stated that they had purchased a “tool” to hack the phone, costing over $1.3 million. However, The Washington Post had later reported that the “tool” was zero-day exploit from “professional hackers.”

This time too, Apple chose to stick to its moral policy grounds, leaving the investigators and the administration. It is uncertain whether or not Trump’s tweet would induce the company to change its decision. Besides, could it possibly lead the FBI to switch to the tactics of 2016 to break into a criminal’s phone this time too?

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