On November 5, Devin Kelley walked into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and gunned down 26 people, including the pastor’s young daughter. Later, he was shot dead by police. The FBI and the Texas Rangers wanted access to Kelley’s phone, to find out if he had any links to militant groups or if it was a random act of violence. A day after the shooting, FBI special agent Chris Combs said that consumer phones are too secure to break into.
“Unfortunately, at this point in time, we are unable to get into that phone,” said Combs. “It highlights an issue that you’ve all heard about before, with the advance of the technology and the phones and the encryptions, law enforcement, whether that’s at the state, local, or federal level, is increasingly not able to get into these phones.”
Combs didn’t say which kind of cellphone Kelley was using, but he said Kelley’s phone was sent to the forensics lab in Virginia. The phone, which were being used by the shooter were the iPhone SE and an LG cellphone. Law enforcement wants to gain access to the iPhone’s local and iCloud info since January 1st 2016. However, the forensics lab scientists were unable to break into the phone.
Following the November 7th press conference about the mass shooting, Apple did try to contact FBI immediately, but the FBI never responded to Apple’s call. This may have been a missed opportunity by the FBI, as unlocking the phone quicker might have helped the investigation.
Now the Texas Rangers have served Apple with a warrant to gain access to Kelley’s iPhone and his iCloud account. They are also trying to seek access to the LG phone.
The events are similar to a dispute between Apple and the FBI from 2015, after the San Bernardino shooting, when Apple had refused to create a backdoor for Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c. Now they’ve issued an official warrant, so it looks like the outcome could be similar to the 2015 case. Apple disputed that if it bypassed the encryption of ne iPhone, it could potentially endanger the security of all iPhones.