A new report from Reuters reports that the FBI could have made a crucial mistake when trying to unlock the iPhone used by the gunman responsible for the shooting last week happened in a church in Texas, in the United States.
The Reuters report explains that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies did not ask Apple to help unlock the password or touch protection the device had. In addition to that, they waited 48 hours, which makes Touch ID useless and ask for an additional code.
David Kelley's iPhone was sent to the criminal laboratory that the FBI has in the town of Quantico, in Virginia, after the shooting because local authorities they couldn't unlock it. While Christopher Combs, head of the FBI field office in San Antonio, did not confirm whether the device was an iPhone, a report from The Washington Post cited sources close to the investigation and said that the device in question was, in effect, one of Apple's smartphones. Reuters adds that in the 48 hours between Sunday's shooting and Tuesday's press conference with Combs, Apple did not receive requests from federal, state or local law enforcement authorities to obtain assistance to unlock the device in question.
The report goes on to explain that letting those 48 hours go by may have been a crucial mistake on the part of law enforcement officials. If the FBI had asked Apple Within 48 hours for the help to unlock the device, Apple could have ordered them to "use the dead man's finger to unlock their device." However, as 48 hours have passed since the device was last unlocked, iOS now requires an access code to unlock and does not accept that only the Touch ID system is used to access the contents of the phone. The delay may be important. If Kelley had used a fingerprint to lock his iPhone, Apple could have told officials that they could use the dead man's finger to unlock their device, provided it has not been turned off and restarted. There is a discrepancy as to whether or not Touch ID will recognize a dead man's finger. Some say it depends on how recently the person has died, while others say that it is not possible at all. It seems that Reuters is positioned in the position that it would have worked in this instance. It is not clear at this point if the FBI asked Apple to provide iCloud data, but if it receives a court order to do so, Apple provides iCloud data to law enforcement, as well as the tools necessary to decipher them.
Apple and the FBI have already had clashes previously regarding requests to unlock smartphones. The most famous case was in which Apple refused to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter. The FBI was finally able to access the device through a third party. It is possible that the FBI does resort to Apple this time in the case of the Texas shooter's device, instead of resorting to a third party, but that remains to be seen.
Recently, Apple has issued a complete statement about the device used by the Texas shooter:
We were shocked and saddened by the violence in Texas last Sunday and joined the world in mourning for the families and community that lost so many loved ones. Our team immediately contacted the FBI after meeting at his press conference on Tuesday that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone. We offered assistance and said we would speed up our response to any legal process sent to us. We work with law enforcement every day. We offer training to thousands of agents so they can understand our devices and how they can quickly request information from Apple.
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