FBI Tests The Waters On Another Attempt To Force Apple To Unlock An iPhone

from the not-this-again dept

Earlier this year, as you recall, there were two big cases in which the DOJ and FBI sought to force Apple to make significant technological changes to iPhone software in order to allow the DOJ to brute force the passcode on some iPhones used by some criminals. Eventually, after Apple (and others) pushed back, and public opinion was turning against the FBI, the DOJ miraculously announced that it found its way into both iPhones and the cases were dropped. But the issue of forcing companies (and Apple especially) to backdoor their way into encrypted iPhones certainly has not been dropped. And it appears that the FBI may be testing the waters to see if it can try again.

You may recall the knife attack in a Minnesota mall last month that wounded 10 individuals. The attacker, Dahir Adan, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer. The FBI is still investigating and guess what? Adan had an iPhone. And it’s locked.

Thornton said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still investigating Adan’s activities and wants access to his cell phone.
“Dahir Adan’s iPhone is locked and we are in the process of assessing our legal and technical options to gain access to this device and the data it may contain,” Thornton said.

“Technical options” meaning if any of the previously obtained methods will work to break in… and “legal” options as in going back to court to try, once again, to abuse the All Writs Act to force Apple to create backdoored code. Stay tuned…

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Comments on “FBI Tests The Waters On Another Attempt To Force Apple To Unlock An iPhone”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not bored, opportunistic

That the person is dead is a perk in their eyes, it means that there’s no-one to contest unlocking the phone, and they get to whine that without being able to force the owner to unlock the phone(which the court might have denied)the FBI is just completely stymied from seeing what’s on the phone, despite the fact that they are absolutely sure that it contains evidence to convict the killer, find Atlantis, cure cancer and solve that last crossword puzzle line that’s stumped them.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You forgot to put your “But, but… TERRORISM!” Glasses (TM). If you wear them you’ll clearly see that the guy must be part of some master terrorist group like ISIS so his phone must contain secret plans for the extermination of America and thus it must be accessed at all costs, including but not limited to the destruction of America and their ideals and rights.


Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: But because of the DCMA...

If their choices are do an illegal act and create said tools or get charged with aiding and abetting terrorism or other ridicolous trumped charges from the FBI for refusing to do what they tell them to.

Would not be the first time a US based company has been forced to break the law because they have been ordered to by the courts.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:


How exactly is it that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has jurisdiction where a guy attacked people with a knife and was killed by police?

Why is it that NOBODY CAN CHALLENGE their lack of jurisdiction, but if the situation was reversed, the first thing the government files is a challenge saying nobody has standing to sue them?


Anon says:

The next step...

Apple needs to make a schizophrenic phone. Type in one code, you get one profile. Type in another, you get another profile. Neither profile can prove the other exists. (It’s up to the user to limit the amount of memory used to avoid overwriting). If necessary, basic metadata that can be verified is visible on both phone profiles (i.e. call history, non-iCloud texts).

Then what does the FBI do?

mcherm (profile) says:

The FBI isn't this stupid

I think Mike Masnick is reading too much into the FBI’s statement. Last time they tried this they made masterful use of public opinion: picking a terrorism case, one in which large numbers of Americans had been killed and there was a colorable (if not quite plausible) argument that the phone might lead to other terrorists.

In this case they would be investigating police misconduct (a case guaranteed to put the public more on edge than, say, a terrorism case). The only people who would feel “threatened” by this case are those minorities who worry about getting shot by the police — not the most supportive group. And there is no colorable argument that the victim’s cell phone might lead to knowledge that would protect lives; at best it might help to exonerate the murderer.

Furthermore, the previous case is still relatively fresh in the minds of citizens and legislators, including the resolution of that case (turned out the FBI was making a mountain out of a molehill, could resolve it without Apple’s help, and that the phone didn’t reveal any helpful information after all).

I don’t believe the FBI is foolish enough to press this case in court.

zerosaves (profile) says:

Re: The FBI isn't this stupid

What? I think you misread this article. The guy shot by police was not the victim, he is the knife wielding attacker who stabbed 10 people, and was luckily stopped by an off-duty police officer who happened to be in the area. Could have been stopped by anyone with a gun, had nothing to do with it being an officer.

DannyB (profile) says:

Use better terminology

The FBI doesn’t want to force Apple to unlock THIS phone.

In the previous FBI vs Everyone’s Security battle, the FIB proved that it was able to get an individual phone unlocked. Even after it claimed it had exhausted all possible measures.

So why should they be believed this time.

PLEASE DON’T say the FBI wants to force Apple to unlock THIS phone.

The FBI wants to force Apple to build a tool, that can unlock ALL phones, without supervision. Even if it means Apple needs to re-design their phone’s security mechanisms. That is what this battle is about. And that’s the way it needs to be stated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Use better terminology

“…the FIB [emphasis added] proved that it was able to get an individual phone unlocked.”

No, they claimed to have paid an exorbitant sum to get the phone unlocked. Since there was no “useful” info (again according to the FIB – typo or intentional pun?), no one that I heard undertook the pointless pain in the ass of filing an FOIA request for the purportedly un-useful info. FIB (can’t resist) made their wild claim about paying Comey’s salary and change to unlock the phone, but nothing substantive about contents.

“The FBI wants to force Apple to build a tool, that can unlock ALL phones, without supervision.”

THAT, exactly that!

John Mayor says:


So… on the one hand, we have inefficient and ineffective commercial ICT that Hillary Clinton used that the FBI said was not secure to use (indeed, posed a threat to National Security!)!… and, on the other hand, we have a commercial ICT device, that– by virtue of it’s efficiency and effectiveness!– is TOO SECURE to use (and thereby, poses a threat to National Security!)!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The FBI is a known bad actor AND a rogue agency.

The FBI have proven to be bad actors before, not only pushing for just this once exceptions and then later insisting you helped us before, but also vacating cases so as to evade a precedent. We still only have their word that prior phones were cracked.

(Without Apple’s help opening iPhone backdoors, the TPM tech has been cracked since 2010. It’s just delicate and expensive.)

At this point, the only reason to willingly help the feds is following a sufficiently substantial bribe.

Cappy Chromecast says:

Someone has to erase the evidence te kid was being set up

Anyone wanna bet that the mysterious off-duty cop has some very interesting location data on HIS phone? Then-who wants to bet that it coincides-mysteriously- with that kids location data?

In these cases, like Omar Mateen ‘on the radar’ for years, or Gavin Long, who claimed he was followed and stalked for years, etc- it is virtually guaranteed that these guys are on a short leash to LEO’s who operate in the shadows, harassing and manipulating them.

I bet even a good journalist would find that this kid-a security guard like Omar Mateen- likely applied for a gun permit from that off-duty cop ( who is an arms dealer), or another LEO who he knows. Then, they harassed the kid mercilessly.

Minnesota is an interesting study in these quasi-official organized stalking’scenarios. Many reporters have sued because LEO’s there misuse drivers databases. One reporter-Jessica Miles-had 88 different police departments doing drive-bys in front of her house.

Another reporter there, Alix Kendall sued for similar reasons.

In many/all of these cases, these guys are harassed for years, with one agency or another trying to get them to become informants, or to just harass them to make the timecard look full. The Intercept covered that last week.

Who wants to bet this is what it is?

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