- Getty/Justin Sullivan
- The FBI says it can’t access data on a phone used by Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman who killed 26 people on Sunday at a rural Texas church. Apple said it contacted the FBI but had not yet received a request for technical assistance.
Another fight between Apple and the FBI is brewing, this time over an iPhone reportedly used by Devin Patrick Kelly, the man who went on a shooting rampage on Sunday that left 26 people dead at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
“They’re in the process of looking at the phone,” Christopher Combs, the special agent leading the investigation into the shooting, told reporters on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to get into that phone.”
Combs’ comments suggest that any clues to Kelley’s motivations or potential coconspirators on his device remain inaccessible without a password.
Apple told Business Insider that it contacted the FBI after it saw the press conference on Tuesday.
“Our team immediately reached out to the FBI after learning from their press conference on Tuesday that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone. We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us,” an Apple representative said in a statement.
“We work with law enforcement every day. We offer training to thousands of agents so they understand our devices and how they can quickly request information from Apple.”
The fingerprint sensor may still have been able to unlock the phone after Kelley’s death
- Flickr/Kārlis Dambrāns
The Apple representative went on to confirm that law enforcement had not yet asked for any help from Apple accessing data on Kelley’s phone.
The implication is that had law enforcement contacted Apple sooner, it would have received tips and guidance that could have helped it preserve access to the data on Kelley’s phone.
For example, as a security measure, the fingerprint sensor on iPhones won’t work if the user hasn’t used it in the past 48 hours. That suggests that for the two days after the rampage and after Kelley’s death, but before the press conference, law enforcement may have been able to use Kelley’s actual finger or a copy of his fingerprint to access his phone.
Echoes of the San Bernardino showdown
The episode evokes a fraught situation in 2016 when Apple and the FBI publicly clashed over access to an iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the attackers in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting.
At the time, Apple went public to fight a court ruling that ordered it to assist the FBI in bypassing critical security features on the device. But the FBI later announced that it was able to access the data on its own and dropped the court fight.
FBI officials have called for companies like Apple to build “back doors” into their technology – special ways for law enforcement to access messages and other data on commercial smartphones.
A representative for the FBI did not immediately return a request for comment outside business hours.