iPhone 7Source: iMore

What you need to know

  • A press conference was held on Monday by Attorney General William Barr and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.
  • The Pensacola base shooting happened in December 2019 by Saudi national, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.
  • Alshamrani was in possession of an iPhone 7 and iPhone 5.
  • A court order was given to search the two devices once they were operational.
  • Apple has not given much assistance when it comes to accessing the encrypted data on the two iPhones.

Attorney General William Barr and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich held a press conference on Monday to reveal the findings of the investigation of the deadly shooting that happened at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in December by a Saudi national. The shooter, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was in possession of two iPhones: an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 5. The government has asked Apple for help unlocking the devices, since data cannot be accessed without a password. Apple "has not given any substantive assistance" in unlocking those devices, according to CBS News.

During the Pensacola base shooting, three American service members were killed, and another eight were wounded, when Alshamrani opened fire at the base. The suspect was an aviation student at the Naval Air Station as well as a member of the Saudi Air Force as part of U.S. Air Force Foreign Military Sales training. Alshamrani was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy who responded to the scene.

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In December, the FBI said that it would look into this incident as an act of terrorism, and has asked Apple for assistance in extracting data from those two iPhones that belonged to Alshamrani. There was a court authorization to search the two devices, which had to be repaired to make operational again after the suspect shot and destroyed one of the devices, since they were both locked and encrypted. But Apple once again has not given much assistance to the government in terms of accessing that encrypted information on the iPhones.

The reason why it's important for the government to obtain this data is because they need to know with whom and about what the suspect was communicating to others before he died. However, the iPhone is designed to make it virtually impossible to unlock without the password.

This goes back to the argument that creating a backdoor for government to access one iPhone is a slippery slope. If Apple makes a backdoor for one iPhone, that technique could be repeated each time the government needs access to an iPhone. There would be no privacy for anyone who owns an iPhone, because their information could be accessed if the government demanded it.

For the full report from the United States Department of Justice, you can find it here.