Apple court battle could have been avoided
The county government that owns the iPhone in a high-profile legal battle between Apple Inc and the Justice Department paid for but never installed a feature that would have allowed the FBI to easily unlock the phone as part of the terrorism investigation into the San Bernardino shootings.
If the technology, known as mobile device management, had been installed, San Bernardino officials would have been able to remotely unlock the iPhone for the FBI without the theatrics of a court battle that is now pitting digital privacy rights against national security concerns.
The service costs $US4 ($A5.59) per month per phone.
Instead, the only person who knew the unlocking passcode for the phone is the dead gunman, Syed Farook, who worked as an inspector in the county’s public health department.
The iPhone assigned to Farook also lacked a Touch ID feature, meaning the FBI cannot use the dead gunman’s thumbprint to unlock it now. The FBI found the phone in a car after the shootings.
A US magistrate last week ordered Apple to provide the FBI with highly specialised software that could be loaded onto the work-issued iPhone 5C used by Farook. He died with his wife in a gun battle with police after killing 14 people in December.
The software would help the FBI hack into the phone by bypassing a security time delay and feature that erases all data after 10 consecutive, unsuccessful attempts to guess the unlocking passcode. This would allow the FBI to use technology to rapidly and repeatedly test numbers in what’s known as a brute force attack.
The FBI said it wants to determine whether Farook had used his phone to communicate with others about the attack.
Apple has said it will protest the ruling and has until Friday to intervene in court.
San Bernardino had an existing contract with a technology provider, MobileIron Inc, but did not install it on any inspectors’ iPhones, county spokesman David Wert said. There is no countywide policy on the matter and departments make their own decisions, he said.
Apple executives said Friday that the company had worked hard to help federal investigators get information off the locked iPhone, suggesting they use an iCloud workaround while the phone was connected to a familiar wireless network so that it would begin automatically backing up and provide access to data. The executives spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing legal process.