FBI Tracks Down Cop Car Firebomber Using Info The FBI Claims Is Way Less Useful Than An Encryption Backdoor
from the I-don't-want-to-tell-you-how-to-do-your-job-but dept
For all of the DOJ and FBI’s protestations that Apple (and others) just aren’t doing enough to help out the federal government, the company actually provides a lot of assistance. No, Apple won’t break encryption or build backdoors, but we live in a golden age of surveillance — one so golden it’s putting the surveillers at risk.
Bill Barr has continually attacked Apple for refusing to cede to his anti-encryption demands. Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray also like to complain that the information Apple can give them — the stuff that isn’t encrypted — is mostly useless.
It isn’t. And they know this. But this false claim provides a lot more leverage than the truth does. There’s a wealth of information available that’s not secured by encryption. A recent case covered by Thomas Brewster for Forbes shows how much investigators can do with Apple’s assistance.
In the Seattle case, the FBI had been tipped off about the identity of a protester police believed had set fire to at least two police patrol vehicles during a protest against police brutality on May 30 following the killing of George Floyd, according to a search warrant reviewed by Forbes. The FBI checked the tip against surveillance feeds, news broadcast footage and social media images, deciding that the lead was worth chasing down. They obtained Verizon records for the suspect, Kelly Jackson, that revealed his location during the protests, what calls he made and the fact that he was using an iPhone 7.
That’s when the FBI called on Apple, asking for the suspect’s iCloud information. A trove of potential evidence was returned by the Cupertino tech giant, including screenshots hosted in Jackson’s photo library, according to the search warrant.
The key element here was the suspect’s iCloud account. Videos showing the man building his Molotov cocktails, as well as videos showing him throwing them at cop cars, were found there. An image taken later in the day showed the suspect with his mask removed, allowing investigators to identify him. The account also contained a screenshot of a website providing the list of things needed to concoct the Molotov cocktails.
But there’s more in the complaint [PDF]. Investigators also used Facebook to tie the suspect to his employer and drivers license data to identify him. The suspect had had previous interactions with law enforcement, which gave them access to his phone number. Phone records put him near the scene of the firebombings, as did videos uploaded by other protesters.
Investigators may not be able to crack the phone (then again, maybe they can), but they can still obtain plenty of information from data backed up to the cloud. This is true with most mobile devices, even though Barr and Wray seem to have a particular dislike for Apple. Pretending this isn’t the case is self-serving at best and thoroughly dishonest at worst.