FBI seeks Apple's assistance in unlocking the phone of Pensacola naval base shooter

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What you need to know

  • The FBI is seeking Apple's aid in unlocking two iPhones.
  • It is believed these phones were owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the attacker who killed three people at a Naval Air Station in Pensacola in December.
  • The FBI has court permission to search these phones, but both are password protected.

The FBI has asked Apple to assist it in the unlocking of two iPhones it believes belonged to the gunman who attacked a Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.

According to NBC News:

The FBI is asking Apple Inc. to help unlock two iPhones that investigators think were owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the man believed to have carried out the shooting attack that killed three people last month at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.In a letter sent late Monday to Apple's general counsel, the FBI said that although it has court permission to search the contents of the phones, both are password-protected. "Investigators are actively engaging in efforts to 'guess' the relevant passcodes but so far have been unsuccessful," it said.

According to the report, the letter states that along with Apple, the FBI has contacted other federal agencies, experts in foreign countries and "familiar contacts in the third-party vendor community." NBC notes that the latter may be a reference to the undisclosed party that helped the FBI unlock the phone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

That case opened up a protracted and public battle between Apple and the FBI over the prospect of creating a backdoor to iOS that would allow law enforcement agencies to access data on otherwise-locked devices with Apple's assistance. Apple remained steadfast in its belief that creating such a tool would irreversibly compromise the security of iOS.

In a statement regarding this latest incident Apple said:

"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."

The FBI's efforts to unlock one of the phones has been further hampered by the fact that the gunman reportedly fired a round into one of the phones.

The FBI in the letter further stated that although the shooter was dead, it wanted to search the phones "out of an abundance of caution". The phones have reportedly been sent to an FBI crime lab in Virginia, and the FBI reportedly stated:

"We stand ready from a logistical standpoint to do whatever is needed of us to work with Apple in effectuating the court's order."

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9