Miscommunication Blamed for Delay in DOJ Accessing iPhone

The US government is using a delay in accessing an iPhone as a reason to get backdoors. However, the real fault could’ve been a miscommunication.

The US government, along with allies in Germany, Australia, and the UK, has been waging a war on security for some time. There have been some very public fronts on this battle as well. One front is Facebook which the government has been pressuring to stop planned end-to-end encryption for its services. Another front is Mozilla’s spearheaded plan to implement DoH encryption.

A third front, of course, is on Apple. This is where high profile criminals, such as mass shooters, allegedly have critical information locked away on their iPhone. The US government likes to play this front up because it plays into the narrative that backdoors need to be implemented as quickly as possible. Recently, this front made news with regards to two iPhones owned by the naval base shooter at Pensacola, Florida.

US Attorney General, William Barr, accused Apple of not providing substantive assistance in the investigation process. Barr used the delays to sell the idea that this is why backdoor access to all encryption is necessary. From Politico:

Attorney General William Barr on Monday increased the pressure on Apple to help investigators access the locked cellphones of the deceased shooter in the Pensacola, Fla., naval base attack.

“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause,” Barr said during a press conference about the FBI’s investigation into the Dec. 6 shooting.

The next day, however, Apple rebuked the claims. Apple said that every request by authorities has been fulfilled with every piece of information the company had. From Politico:

“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation,” Apple said in a statement to POLITICO. “Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.”

The FBI first requested help with an iPhone on the day of the shooting, Apple said, and it responded by sharing “a wide variety” of data. It provided other data, such as iCloud backups, in response to “six additional legal requests” over the course of the next week. “In every instance,” Apple said, “we responded with all of the information that we had.”

The government didn’t tell Apple that it couldn’t access the iPhones until Jan. 6, Apple said. Until then, the company added, it didn’t even know that a second iPhone was in the mix. A subpoena concerning the second phone arrived two days later.

Apple needled the government about this belated notification: “Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.”

In short, Apple wasn’t even aware that there was a second iPhone because the government simply forgot to ask. The article went on to say that the Department of Justice (DOJ) did not dispute this timeline.

For the most part, the intent was clearly to sell the idea that backdoor access is necessary. Instead, the attempt wound up backfiring because of a bureaucratic mistake. As such, the narrative quickly collapsed and exposed the government of trying to use any and every excuse to push the backdoor access agenda. What will be interesting to see is if the government will later use this as an excuse again when the details are seemingly forgotten. It’s not an unknown tactic of the current administration by any means, so we’ll be watching to see if this does happen in the future.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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