The back and forth battle between Apple and the government over accessing an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters is becoming more contentious and layered by the day. Shortly after the DOJ filed a motion alleging that a) Apple’s stance on encryption was nothing more than a marketing gimmick and that b) creating the software solution the FBI wants would not be difficult.
“At no point has Apple ever said that it does not have the technical ability to comply with the order or that the order asks Apple to undertake an unreasonably challenging software development task,” the filing reads in part. “On this point, Apple’s silence speaks volumes.”
Apple, however, quickly struck back in the court of public opinion. During a conference call with reporters, an Apple executive explained that the Apple ID associated with the shooter’s iPhone had been changed less than 24 hours after the shooting. As a result, any automatic iCloud backups were put on hold. For what it’s worth, the FBI maintains that the Apple ID was changed by an individual at the San Bernardino Health Department. That department’s Twitter account, however, subsequently claimed that they reset the device’s Apple ID only at the FBI’s behest.
Had the Apple ID not been changed, Apple further explained, all of the information the FBI was seeking might have been present in the iCloud backups Apple already handed over to authorities. As it stands now, the FBI only has iCloud backups up until the week of October 19. All iCloud backups between that date and the December shooting remain unaccessible.
Notably, Apple also made a point of noting that it has, in fact, been cooperating with the FBI since January.
The executives said the company had been in regular discussions with the government since early January, and that it proposed four different ways to recover the information the government is interested in without building a backdoor. One of those methods would have involved connecting the iPhone to a known Wi-Fi network and triggering an iCloud backup that might provide the FBI with information stored to the device between the October 19th and the date of the incident.
Apple sent trusted engineers to try that method, the executives said, but they were unable to do it. It was then that they discovered that the Apple ID password associated with the iPhone had been changed.
When Apple executives were asked why the company was willing to provide iCloud backup data to authorities but is not willing to access such data via a backdoor, Apple executives explained that this marks the first time Apple has ever “been asked to build an entirely new version of its iOS operating system designed to disable iPhone security measures.”