The FBI is again asking Apple’s help to unlock iPhones. This time it’s part of an investigation into the shooting attack killing three people at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida last month (via NBC News).
The FBI believes two iPhones were owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who is the main suspect in the investigation. The agency sent a letter to Apple’s general counsel on Monday, saying that although it had permission to search the iPhones, it is unable to since they are protected by passwords.
Apple said it had been working with the agency:
We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.
This isn’t the first time the FBI has requested Apple to unlock an iPhone. During a 2015 investigation into a shooting in San Bernardino, California, the FBI requested that Apple unlock an iPhone 5c in the shooter’s possession. Apple couldn’t since the iPhone had a passcode.
Then, the FBI got a court order to force Apple to make a special version of iOS that would make it possible to unlock the iPhone, essentially creating an encryption backdoor into the device. Apple protested in a public battle, and eventually the FBI paid US$900,000 for a third-party that successfully broke into the iPhone.