AG Barr battles Apple over locked cellphone data used by Saudi shooter at Pensacola military base

Attorney General William Barr urged Apple to cooperate in unlocking cellphones used by a gunman in a mass shooting at a Florida military base which has been labeled an “act of terrorism.”

Barr accused the tech giant of not giving federal investigators “any substantive assistance” in the investigation as he shared details about the findings from the December shooting at the Pensacola military base that left three dead.

(Video: Reuters)

 

Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who had enrolled in the training program of the Naval Air Station, opened fire killing three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others before being killed himself. Barr has been hoping Apple could help the investigation into gunman’s communications by extracting data from two iPhones that belonged to him but have been “virtually impossible” to access.

“It is very important to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died,” Barr said.

But Apple has refused and stands by its policy of protecting encrypted devices. The tech company also refuted Barr’s claim that it has not helped investigators.

“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 late Monday.

“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” a spokesperson for Apple said, according to The Hill.

“Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations,” the spokesperson said. “We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.”

Apple contends it provided “gigabytes of information” including “iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts” following six legal requests made last month.

“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,” Barr said during a press conference Monday. “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.”

‘We don’t want to get into a world where we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance,’ he said. “We should be able to get in when we have a warrant that establishes that criminal activity is underway.”

Apple claimed they were not notified that the FBI needed assistance until the beginning of January. FBI investigators have reportedly been given court authorization to search the phones but have not been able to access them without passwords.

During Monday’s press conference, Barr said that Alshamrani was motivated by “jihadist ideology” and had been posting anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadist messages on social media – some right before the shooting.

Alshamrani “had a deep-seated hatred for the United States,” according to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Meanwhile, Apple contends that it will be continuing to work with the FBI, noting that engineering teams were on a call in an attempt to provide additional technical assistance.

“Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation,” Apple said in a statement.

Frieda Powers

Senior Staff Writer
[email protected]

Originally from New York, Powers graduated from New York University and eventually made her way to sunny South Florida where she has been writing for the BizPacReview team since 2015.
Frieda Powers

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