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Authorities want Apple to help access the Sutherland Springs shooter’s iPhone data

Updated Nov 20th, 2017 1:02PM EST
iPhone Encryption vs. Police
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

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Remember all the fuss about Apple refusing to unlock the iPhone from the San Bernardino shooter? Well, authorities have served Apple a search warrant for the iCloud information tied to an iPhone SE that belonged to the Sutherland Springs shooter who killed 26 people a couple of weeks ago in Texas.

The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, had two devices on him when he was found dead by authorities, including an iPhone SE. This time around, however, the situation is much different than it was with the San Bernardino iPhone.

Texas Ranger Kevin Wright obtained the search warrant that pertains to Apple on November 9th, MySanAntonio reports. Authorities want access to the phone’s contents, but Apple has only been issued a warrant pertaining to iCloud data. Unlock the San Bernardino iPhone, no request for assistance has been made regarding unlocking or breaking into the iPhone.

As TechCrunch explains, Apple has been proactive in this case, reaching out to authorities in early November and offering assistance as soon as it was revealed that a phone had been recovered. The investigators might have been able to unlock the iPhone more easily in the first hours after the tragic event, but unfortunately law enforcement did not contact Apple for any technical assistance during the first 48 hours. In fact, an Apple spokesperson confirmed to BGR on Monday that Apple still hasn’t received any warrant or request related to the actual iPhone in question. Instead, only iCloud data has been requested.

It’s unclear what kind of information Apple can provide from iCloud. iCloud backups are probably the police’s best bet at this point. Breaking the iPhone’s actual encryption via a backdoor was the subject of the San Bernardino confrontation between Apple and the FBI, but this time around authorities are only seeking Apple’s help in accessing information from iCloud, not the actual iPhone. A separate warrant was issued that gives authorities permission to try to break into the phone, but that warrant does not seek any assistance from Apple — it doesn’t even name Apple.

Here is the initial statement Apple issued related to the Sutherland Springs shooting:

We were shocked and saddened by the violence in Texas last Sunday, and we join the world in grieving for the families and community that lost so many loved ones.

Our team immediately reached out to the FBI after learning from their press conference on Tuesday that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone. We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us.

We work with law enforcement every day. We offer training to thousands of agents so they understand our devices and how they can quickly request information from Apple.

Article and headline updated to correct earlier errors suggesting the warrant in question asked Apple to unlock the iPhone.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.