The FBI Is Seeking Access to the Sutherland Springs Shooter's iPhone


The FBI has the Texas church shooters' cellphone - but can't access it because it's locked, officials revealed Tuesday. That's because experts at the FBI's lab in Quantico, Virginia, are trying to determine if there are other methods, such as cloud storage or a linked laptop, that would give access to the phone's data, these people said.

Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, a court-martialled former US Air Force airman, fired hundreds of rounds in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday killing at least 26 people, including an infant and a pregnant woman, in the worst shooting incident in Texas history. Martin says there are about 50 people in the congregation, adding that "there were very few that were here that were uninjured". Combs made a point not to describe the type of device on Tuesday.

He said that the gunman was not in the FBI's database. The Washington Post identified the phone as an iPhone.

It's unclear at this point if the Federal Bureau of Investigation has asked Apple to hand over data from iCloud, but if it receives a court order to do so, Apple provides law enforcement authorities with iCloud data, as well as the tools needed to decrypt it.

"They're in the process of looking at the phone", Combs told reporters.

The FBI's first option is likely to pressure the device-maker to help access the phone, but if that won't work they could try breaking into it.

The FBI demanded that Apple help it disable the locking program, which Apple refused to do on the grounds that creating software to do so would result in something that could potentially unlock any iPhone.

The tension between law enforcement and the tech industry over encryption remains as high as ever. "We offer training to thousands of agents so they understand our devices and how they can quickly request information from Apple", it continued.

Apple offers technical assistance to law enforcement and will help investigators access data stored in iCloud when it is able to do so. Since 48 hours has gone by since the device was last unlocked, however, iOS will now require a passcode to unlock.

Apple refused the court order for months, arguing that doing so would set a risky precedent in the trade-off between user privacy and security versus national security.

The case is reminiscent of the Apple-FBI legal feud previous year, in which the Justice Dept. sought to compel Apple to build a backdoor to bypass the encryption on the iPhone that belonged to Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December 2015.

A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately return a request for comment outside of business hours.