Apple Inc. indicated on Friday that the reason the FBI was requesting a “backdoor” into the iPhone of one of the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting was because the agency reset the iCloud password on the phone, leading to Apple’s inability to obtain backup data.
The iPhone in question was reportedly used by Syed Farook, who, with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, are suspects in the shooting that killed 14 people and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, California in December.
Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook initially spoke out about the FBI’s request on Tuesday when he revealed that the agency wanted Apple to create a way to decrypt the iPhone, which he believed “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand” due to the fact that once “a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”
The Guardian reported that the phone used by Farook belonged to his employer, San Bernardino County, and that while Apple has provided the FBI with the backup data it accessed through Farook’s iCloud account, the last backup was performed on Oct. 19, six weeks before the shooting.
The FBI filed a motion with the Department of Justice on Friday to demand Apple’s cooperation, claiming that “rather than assist the effort to fully investigate a deadly terrorist attack by obeying this court’s [order], Apple has responded by publicly repudiating that order.”
During a conference call Friday afternoon, an anonymous Apple official reportedly revealed that the iCloud password on the suspect’s iPhone was changed “less than 24 hours after the government took possession of the device,” which revoked Apple’s access into the iCloud account that was used for the backup content.
The San Bernardino County Wire Twitter account confirmed the revelation on Friday evening saying, “The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI’s request.”
The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI's request.
— SBCounty (@SBCounty) February 20, 2016
The FBI reportedly released a statement on Saturday stating that it “worked with” county officials to reset the iCloud password, claiming that “a logical next step was to obtain access to iCloud backups for the phone in order to obtain evidence related to the investigation in the days following the attack.”
The Guardian reported that “an Apple executive noted that had the password reset not happened, America’s most valuable company might not be going to court with its own government.”
While the mother of one San Bernardino shooting victim said she believes Apple is “definitely within their rights” to refuse to create a backdoor into the iPhone, a lawyer said he was contacted last week by “the Justice Department and local prosecutors,” and will be representing a number of the shooting victims in a lawsuit against Apple.