Attorney General William Barr told reporters at a press conference yesterday (Monday) that, so far, Apple has given the FBI “no substantive assistance” as the law enforcement agency investigates the mass shooting that took place last month at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
Last week, the FBI requested that the technology giant help it unlock two iPhones believed to have belonged to the suspected Pensacola murderer; yesterday, at the aforementioned press conference, however, Attorney General Barr confirmed to the public that Apple has turned down that request.
The current battle over unlocking phones seems to be Round 2 between the FBI and Apple – a rematch of the fight over unlocking an earlier generation of iPhone after the San Bernardino shooting several years ago.
As I wrote at that time, for a number of significant reasons I strongly support Apple’s position – and I believe that creating the backdoor technology that would be necessary in order to allow government agencies to unlock devices would open a terrible Pandora’s Box. At the time I also explored some of the laws related to the case – something that readers may wish to read about now, as those laws are likely to be cited in the ensuing legal battle.
Despite all of the current discussions about Apple and the law, however, I wonder if the FBI will simply gain access to the suspected killer’s phones by utilizing tools offered by third parties such as the Israeli firm, Cellebrite – and whether, in the end, as long as hacking tools are available from overseas vendors (the technology produced by Cellebrite may be illegal for American firms to produce), no technology firm – regardless of its size – can truly protect citizens from governments that wish to access their private data.