The FBI and Apple are bracing for another fight over encryption, this time because of the iPhone of the dead gunman in Sunday’s Texas church shooting, the Washington Post reports. The federal government and the company have shied away from confrontation since a 2016 standoff when the locked and encrypted iPhone of a terrorist in San Bernardino, Ca., led to a major court battle. The Justice Department tried to force Apple to unlock the dead man’s phone. The company refused, saying to do so would create a security weakness in the phones of all customers. That fight started a national debate about the competing interests of national security, law enforcement, personal privacy, and giant tech firms. The question of whether the government could force companies to provide access to phones and other electronic devices was never answered by the courts, because in the middle of the fight, the FBI found a private firm that could access the phone.
This week, the FBI said it had not been able to access the phone belonging to Devin Kelley, the Air Force veteran blamed for killing more than two dozen people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tx. Officials did not say what type of phone Kelley had, but people familiar with the case said it was an iPhone. Experts at the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Va., are trying to determine if there are other methods, such as cloud storage or a linked laptop, that would provide access to the phone’s data. That process could take weeks. If the FBI and Apple had talked to each other in the first two days after the attack, it’s possible the device might already be open. That time frame may have been critical because Apple’s iPhone “Touch ID” — which uses a fingerprint to unlock the device — stops working after 48 hours.