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Federal Bureau of Investigation can't break the encryption on Texas shooter's smartphone
09 November 2017, 03:17 | Jodi Jackson
The FBI can't unlock the Texas church shooter's phone
Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sought to force Apple to break into the locked iPhone of a gunman in the San Bernardino mass shootings.
The FBI's refusal to identify the manufacturer of the phone stands in contrast to its public feud with Apple in the aftermath of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting in 2015 that left 14 people dead.
"The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor".
Like Farook, the San Bernardino shooter, Kelley died before he could be questioned by investigators, making his mobile phone a potential gold mine for authorities looking for evidence. "We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us", an Apple spokesperson said in a statement.
Law enforcement officials argue that encryption that prevents a police officer from opening a suspect's phone even with a court order makes it increasingly hard to solve murders and a host of other crimes; privacy advocates say that encrypted communications protect everyone from hackers and thieves and that the government should be able to find evidence through other means.
The government's lawsuit against Apple was ultimately abandoned in March 2016 after the DOJ reportedly paid a private contractor upwards of $1 million to crack the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, but security measures increasingly offered by mobile device makers have posed plenty of other problems for federal investigators ever since.
USA TODAY, together with the Associated Press and the news site Vice, sued to discover the name of the outside party that helped crack the phone, but a judge said the agency could keep the identity secret. They can also get warrants for any accounts he had at server-based internet services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. That's even true for Apple's iCloud, where iPhones are often - though not always - backed up.
The Justice Department under President Donald Trump has suggested it will be aggressive in seeking access to encrypted information from technology companies.
Earlier in the month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein called on tech companies to build "responsible encryption" that would allow access only with judicial authorization. Sometimes "brute force" attacks aimed at methodically guessing a user's passcode can open a device, though that won't work with all phones.
In the end, the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid an estimated $1.3 million to an unnamed company to build a tool that allowed it to break into the phone, and withdrew its case against Apple.
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