A U. S Federal Judge on Tuesday ordered Apple to assist federal investigators in recovering data on an iPhone 5c that was used by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino tragedy. The feds say Apple “declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”
“Despite … a warrant authorizing the search,” said prosecutors, “the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”
Prosecutors say they need Apple’s help accessing the device’s data in order to find out who Farook, and his fellow shooter, wife Tashfeen Malik, were communicating with before the shooting. The feds say this would aid them in the attempt to find out who may have helped plan and carry out the massacre, and where they traveled prior to the incident.
The judge ruled that Apple had to provide “reasonable technical assistance” in recovering the data from the iPhone 5c, which might include allowing them to bypass the auto-erase function by allowing investigators to submit an unlimited amount of passcodes to attempt to unlock the phone. Apple has five days to respond to the court, if it believes such compliance would be “unreasonably burdensome.”
United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker called the move an “important step.”
“Since the terrorist attack in San Bernardino on December 2, 2015, that took the lives of 14 innocent Americans and shattered the lives of numerous families, my office and our law enforcement partners have worked tirelessly to exhaust every investigative lead in the case,” said Decker. “We have made a solemn commitment to the victims and their families that we will leave no stone unturned as we gather as much information and evidence as possible. These victims and families deserve nothing less. The application filed today in federal court is another step — a potentially important step — in the process of learning everything we possibly can about the attack in San Bernardino.”
The iPhone in question is owned by Farook’s employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, which assigned it to him. The county has already consented to allow investigators to search the phone’s contents.
While prosecutors do have access to Farook’s iCloud account, the most recent version they’ve been able to access dates from about a month and a half before the shooting. Prosecutors say this shows Farook “may have disabled the feature to hide evidence.”