The San Bernardino Health Department said in a tweet that the iCloud account used by Syed Rizwan Farook was reset at the request of the FBI. On Friday, court documents and statements from Apple revealed that the iCloud account had been reset 24 hours after the FBI seized an iPhone used by Syed Farook after he and his wife killed 14 people in an act of terror.
The implication at the time was that this reset was done by the San Bernardino Health Department for reasons of its own. The agency owns the iPhone seized by the FBI as well as the iCloud account tied to the phone.
Apple said on Friday that it had worked with the FBI since early January to access data on the iPhone, including proposing four different ways to do so without creating a backdoor into iOS. One of those ways—which may or may not have been successful—was nipped in the bud when it was discovered the iCloud account password was changed in the first 24 hours the device was in the hands of the FBI.
Apple had hoped to trigger an automatic iCloud backup by taking the device to a known (trusted) network. Because the iCloud password was changed on Apple's servers by the San Bernardino Health Department, but not on the locked iPhone, that method didn't work.
What Apple didn't say and what the FBI didn't offer was that it was the FBI who asked the San Bernardino Health Department to change that password, at least according to a tweet:
The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI's request.— CountyWire (@CountyWire) February 20, 2016
Buzzfeed's John Paczkowski reported that the agency confirmed the tweet was authentic, but had nothing further to add.
There are already conspiracy-theorists suggesting that the FBI did so in order to use this iPhone and this situation to force Apple to build a back door into iOS. A more reasoned interpretation, however, is that the FBI asked for the reset so that it could log into the iCloud account. Any trouble it caused with Apple's hoped-for automatic iCloud backup would therefore be collateral damage, and not intent.
Why the FBI let the San Bernardino Health Department take the blame for the reset, however, is another issue.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.