Apple denied Attorney General William Barr's assessment that it hadn't helped law enforcement officers unlock the password-protected iPhones the shooter had used on a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida last month, but declined his main request from a back door provide.
"We reject the finding that Apple has failed to provide substantial assistance in investigating Pensacola. Our responses to their numerous requests since the attack were timely, thorough, and ongoing," said a statement late Monday.
Apple said it "created a lot of information related to the investigation" after the FBI's first request on December 6. The company said it provided "gigabytes of information," including "iCloud backups, account information, and multi-account transaction data," in response to further requests this month.
Saudi Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani shot three Americans at Pensacola Naval Air Station on December 6. The 21-year-old gunman was fatally shot during the attack by a vice sheriff, which US officials have described as an act of terrorism.
Apple continues to deny Barr's request to find a way for law enforcement to use a court order to access encrypted devices, as Apple opposed to a shooter's iPhone in San Bernardino, California, in 2016. In this case, the point at which the FBI could get into the phone without Apple's help has been deleted, but the incident raised questions about the balance between civil liberties and public security that remain to be resolved.
"We have always claimed that there is no back door just for the good guys," said Apple in its latest statement. "Back doors can also be exploited by people who compromise our national security and our customers' data security. Law enforcement agencies now have access to more data than ever in history, so Americans don't have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations have to." We believe that encryption is critical to protecting our country and our users' data. "
At a congressional hearing in December, Apple took a similar view when senators threatened to regulate if technology companies couldn't find a way to work with law enforcement agencies to legally access encrypted devices and messages. A Facebook representative also attended the hearing and defended the company's plans to consistently encrypt its entire private messaging system. Law enforcement fear will make it harder for them to track down child exploitation cases, as they are doing now.
Apple said it had provided technical assistance to the FBI in the Pensacola case that did not require a back door to be encrypted. Apple said it had recently been informed by the FBI of a second iPhone in the investigation that law enforcement needed access help. After Apple received a subpoena "for information on the second iPhone" on January 8, the company replied "within a few hours".
Apple promised to continue working with the FBI. But unless the company agrees to provide an opportunity for law enforcement to access encrypted devices, Barr is apparently not entirely satisfied.
"This situation shows very well why it is important that investigators have access to digital evidence once they have received a probable ruling," Barr said in a Monday speech about the Pensacola case. "We urge Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution to better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks."
Read Apple's full answer below:
We were devastated when we heard about the tragic terrorist attack on U.S. forces on December 6th at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement agencies and we regularly work with the police across the country on their investigation. When law enforcement requests our support, our teams work 24/7 to provide them with the information we have.
We reject the statement that Apple has not provided substantial support in investigating Pensacola. Our responses to their numerous requests since the attack were timely, thorough, and ongoing.
Within hours of the FBI's first request on December 6, we provided a wealth of information related to the investigation. From December 7th to 14th, we received six additional legal requests and subsequently provided information, including iCloud backups, account information, and multi-account transaction data.
We responded to every request promptly, often within hours, and shared information with the FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola, and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we passed on to the investigators. In any case, we replied with all the information we had.
The FBI didn't tell us until January 6th that they needed additional help a month after the attack. Only then did we learn about the existence of a second iPhone related to the FBI investigation and the inability of the FBI to access one. It was only on January 8th that we received a subpoena for information about the second iPhone, to which we replied within a few hours. Getting in touch early is vital for accessing information and finding additional options.
We continue to work with the FBI and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical help. Apple has a lot of respect for the work of the offices and we will work tirelessly to investigate this tragic attack on our country.
We always said there was no back door for the good guys only. Back doors can also be exploited by people who endanger our national security and the data security of our customers. Law enforcement agencies now have access to more data than ever in history, so Americans don't have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We believe strong encryption is critical to protecting our country and our users' data.
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