Apple Denies Not Providing ‘Substantive Assistance’ to the FBI in the Pensacola Investigation

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The FBI asked for Apple’s help in unlocking the iPhone of a suspected Flordia shooter last week. Earlier today, US Attorney General William Barr said that Apple had denied the request and openly criticized the company for not providing it with any substantive assistance. Apple has now issued an official statement about the matter.

The company says that it refutes statements of it not providing any substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation to the FBI. It says it responded to the FBI requests within hours and in many cases, it shared gigabytes of information with investigators.

Apple has shared a lengthy statement about the entire issue, though never does it mention once that it will help the FBI in unlocking the iPhone of the shooters. The company reiterates that its products do not have a backdoor and that it feels encryption is necessary to protect the country and users’ data.

If anything, it looks like Apple and the FBI will once again be battling it out over creating backdoors in iPhones so that it can be used by law enforcement agencies in such cases. The last time this happened was in 2016 when the FBI ultimately ended up paying professional hackers to unlock the iPhone 5c of the shooter.

Below is Apple’s statement about the matter in full:

We were devastated to learn of the tragic terrorist attack on members of the US armed services at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida on December 6th. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and routinely work with police across the country on their investigations. When law enforcement requests our assistance, our teams work around the clock to provide them with the information we have.

We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.

Within hours of the FBI’s first request on December 6th, we produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation. From December 7th through the 14th, we received six additional legal requests and in response provided information including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts.

We responded to each request promptly, often within hours, sharing information with FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators. In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had.

The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance — a month after the attack occurred. Only then did we learn about the existence of a second iPhone associated with the investigation and the FBI’s inability to access either iPhone. It was not until January 8th that we received a subpoena for information related to the second iPhone, which we responded to within hours. Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.

We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance. Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation.

We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys. Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.