Texas church shooting revives an old FBI-Apple privacy debate

The Texas church massacre will be providing a familiar frustration for law enforcement: FBI agents are unable to unlock the gunman’s encrypted cellphone to learn what evidence in which might hold.

however while heart-wrenching details of the rampage in which left 26 people dead might revive the debate over the balance of digital privacy rights along with also national security, in which’s not likely to prompt change anytime soon.

Congress has not shown a strong appetite for legislation in which would certainly force technology companies to help the government break into encrypted phones along with also computers. along with also the fiery public debate surrounding the FBI’s legal fight with Apple has largely faded since federal authorities announced they were able to access a locked phone in a terror case without the help of the technology giant.

As a candidate, Donald Trump called on Americans to boycott Apple unless in which helped the FBI hack into the phone, however he hasn’t been as vocal as president.

Still, the issue re-emerged Tuesday, when Christopher Combs, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio division, said agents had been unable to get into the cell phone belonging to Devin Patrick Kelley, who slaughtered much of the congregation inside the middle of a Sunday service.

“in which highlights an issue you’ve all heard about before. With the advance of the technology along with also the phones along with also the encryption, law enforcement will be increasingly not able to get into these phones,” Combs told reporters. He did not provide further details different than saying the device was being flown to an FBI lab for analysis. “We’re working very hard to get into in which phone, along with also in which will continue until we find an answer,” Combs added.

Combs was telegraphing a longstanding frustration of the FBI, which claims encryption has stymied investigations of everything by sex crimes against children to drug cases, even if they obtain a warrant for the information. Agents have been unable to retrieve data by half the mobile devices — more than 6,900 phones, computers along with also tablets — in which they tried to access in less than a year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said last month, wading into an issue in which also vexed his predecessor, James Comey. Comey spoke before Congress along with also elsewhere about the bureau’s inability to access digital devices. however the Obama White House never publicly supported legislation in which would certainly have forced technology companies to give the FBI a back door to encrypted information, leaving Comey’s hands tied to propose a specific legislative fix.

Security experts generally believe such encryption backdoors are a terrible idea in which could expose a vast amount of private, business along with also government data to hackers along with also spies. in which’s because those backdoor keys would certainly work for bad guys as well as Great guys — along with also the bad guys would certainly almost immediately target them for theft, along with also might even be able to recreate them by scratch.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took aim at Silicon Valley’s methods for protecting privacy during a speech last month, saying Trump’s Justice Department would certainly be more aggressive in seeking information by technology companies. He took a harder line than his predecessors however stopped short of saying what specific steps the administration might take.

Washington has proven incapable of solving a problem in which an honest conversation could fix, said David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney who currently directs a cyberlaw institute at the University of Pittsburgh.

“We wait for a mass disaster to sharpen the discussion about This particular, when we should have been talking about in which since San Bernardino,” he said. “Reasonable people of Great will could resolve This particular problem. I don’t think in which’s dependent on the political wins or who will be the FBI director. in which’s begging for a solution.”

Even so, the facts of the church shooting may not make in which the most powerful case against warrant-proof encryption. When the FBI took Apple to court in February 2016 to force in which to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, investigators believed the device held clues about whom the couple communicated with along with also where they may have traveled.

however Combs didn’t say what investigators hoped to retrieve by Kelley’s phone, along with also investigators already have ample information about his motive. Authorities in Texas say the church shooting was motivated by the gunman’s family troubles, rather than terrorism, along with also investigators have not said whether they are seeking possible co-conspirators.

Investigators may have different means to get the information they seek. If the Texas gunman backed up his phone online, they can get a copy of in which having a legal order — usually a warrant. They can also get warrants for any accounts he had at server-based internet services such as Facebook, Twitter along with also Google.

inside the California case, the FBI ultimately broke into the phone by paying an unidentified vendor for a hacking tool to access the phone without Apple’s help, averting a court battle. in which’s unclear if the FBI could or would certainly do in which again; phone security varies widely by type, along with also Combs wouldn’t say what the gunman had.

Former federal prosecutor Joseph DeMarco, who filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of groups in which supported the Justice Department against Apple, said he was hopeful the case would certainly spur fresh discussion. If not by itself, he said, the shooting could be one of several cases in which prompt the Justice Department to take different technology companies to court.

“Eventually, the courts will rule on This particular or a legislative fix will be imposed,” he said. “Eventually, the pressure will mount.”

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