Apple denies AG Barr’s calls of no help to unlock Pensacola killer’s iPhones

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Tim Cook & Apple stand behind its stance that iPhone encryption is "vital to protecting our country and our users' data."

Apple denied late Monday that it has not cooperated with U.S. federal authorities to help unlock a pair of iPhone’s believed to have belonged to a Saudi aviation student that killed three people at a Florida Navy base in December, saying it always works with law enforcement in their investigations and directly contradicting claims by the U.S. Attorney General that it had not given “substantive assistance.”

Attorney General William Barr accused the company Monday of refusing to help authorities in unlocking the devices. Mr. Barr called on Apple to find a way to crack the encrypted phones.

“It’s very important for us to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died,” Mr. Barr said on Monday.

In a statement obtained by Cult of Mac, the iPhone maker said “our responses to (the federal governments) many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.”

In response to several legal requests, the statement read that the company provided a “wide variety of information” when first contacted by law enforcement last December, “including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts,” Apple officials wrote.

“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.

“We responded to each request promptly, often within hours, sharing information with FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators. In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had,” the statement read.

As for unlocking the iPhone…

Apple left the last paragraph of its release to address the demands of some to create a way for law enforcement to unlock mobile phones but gave no clear indication it was willing to compromise or comply with the government’s request, even for cases where terrorism or violence was involved.

“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” Apple executives wrote in the statement. “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. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.”

What’s next?

With Mr. Barr’s request and Apple’s clear indication it doesn’t plan on unlocking the iPhones in question, the ball is now in the government’s court as to whether it plans to seek a court order compelling Apple to defeat the security protections. In what is clearly a new standoff between high tech and law enforcement since a similar incident in 2016, the Justice Department could now obtain a legal order compelling Apple to cooperate.