Attorney General William Barr slammed Apple for not helping the FBI cracking the encryption on iPhones belonging to a Saudi airman who waged an attack on the Pensacola Naval Station last year and was discovered to be connected to al Qaeda.
“Apple has made a business and marketing decision to design its phones in a way that only the user can unlock the contents no matter what the circumstances,” Attorney General William Barr said a press conference Monday where he revealed Saudi Air Force airman Mohammed Alshamrani’s connection to the terrorist organization and said the FBI had used information found on the phones to wage a counterterrorism action in Yemen.
Apple has long resisted government entreaties to break encryption on iPhones – famously refusing to unlock a phone used by the San Bernardino shooter in a 2016 terrorist attack – because it would compromise privacy and weaken security of iPhones.
“In cases like this, where the user is a terrorist, or in other cases where the user is a violent criminal, a human trafficker, a child predator, Apple’s decision has dangerous consequences for the public safety and the national security and is in my judgment unacceptable,” Barr said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI’s method for cracking the phone is “a pretty limited application” and “not a fix” for agency’s “broader” problem with Apple.
The bureau has turned to other sources for help in the past. After a public battle with Apple that looked like it might play out in the Supreme Court, the FBI hired a vendor, widely believed to be Celebrite, to access data on the iPhone 5C used by shooter Syed Rizwan Malik and his wife Tashfeen company to crack the San Bernardino case.
Apple pushed back at the Justice Department Monday. “There is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys, and the American people do not have to choose between weakening encryption and effective investigations,” the company said in a statement. “It is because we take our responsibility to national security so seriously that we do not believe in the creation of a backdoor — one which will make every device vulnerable to bad actors who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers.”