AG Barr calls out Apple for not helping federal investigators unlock Pensacola gunman’s iPhones

AG Barr calls out Apple for not helping federal investigators unlock Pensacola gunman’s iPhones

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U.S. Attorney General William Ball said on Monday that Apple Inc. is not cooperating with federal investigators' requests for help unlocking the two iPhones belonging to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the suspected gunman responsible for the terrorist act at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida on Dec. 6.

The story: During a press conference on Monday, Barr deemed the attack, which killed three US sailors and wounded eight other people, an act of terrorism inspired by "jihadist ideology," CNN reported.

Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, is believed to have planned and carried out the attack alone and no other co-conspirators have been charged, Barr said on Monday.

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Amid the investigation, the FBI requested help from Apple to unlock two iPhones believed to be owned by Aslshamrani, who was killed during the attack. "Investigators are actively engaging in efforts to 'guess' the relevant passcodes but so far have been unsuccessful," the FBI said in a letter to Apple general counsel Katherine L. Adams last week.

“We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available,” Apple said in response.

But on Monday, Barr expressed frustration with the company for not providing "any substantive assistance” unlocking the two phones. Investigators believe Alshamrani deliberately shot one of the phones, making it much harder to unlock. “It is very important to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died,” but the phones were “engineered to make it virtually impossible to unlock them without the password," Barr said. "We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter's iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance.”

“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 added. “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.”

But Barr did not reveal whether the DOJ would legally challenge Apple to gain access to encrypted data in the iPhones, as they did in 2015 when the agency was trying to access the phone owned by the gunman responsible for the San Bernardino, California terrorist attack. The DOJ eventually dropped its legal fight against the company after it managed to unlock the phone, leaving the debate regarding user privacy and national security largely unsettled.

“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,” Barr said.“We should be able to get in when we have a warrant that establishes that criminal activity is underway.”

In response, Apple dismissed the notion that it "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," the company, according to Axios. "Within hours of the FBI’s first request on December 6, we produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation. From December 7 through the 14th, we received six additional legal requests and in response provided information including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts."

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