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Why Can't Apple Unlock The Sutherland Springs Shooter's Phone?

Diego A/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

The investigation into what led a gunman to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs is ongoing, and law enforcement are still trying to access a key piece of evidence – his phone.

The Texas Rangers and FBI agents have tried to access shooter Devin Kelley’s Apple iPhone, but the encryption that keeps its contents secret has so far proved impenetrable. The Rangers recently served Apple with a warrant for the data, but the tech giant says it cannot unlock the phone. Doing so, Apple officials say, would ultimately compromise their customers' privacy.

Dr. Rick Smith, an information security expert who runs cryptosmith.com, says Apple claims it cannot grant access to its phones, and that’s intentional.

“In order to make the iPhone safe, you either make it so nobody can get into it, or everybody can get into it,” Smith says. “When you start using encryption, it’s [about] mathematics. And math is the same for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hacker, or the U.S. government, or the police, or your nosy neighbor next door.”

Law enforcement officials have expressed frustration with Apple and other companies’ inability or, as they see it, unwillingness to unlock devices belonging to criminals or suspects.

“I think that law enforcement honestly believes there is some magic that technologists can do in order to make this safe for everyone,” Smith says. “And that simply isn’t true.”

Smith says an encryption system that allowed law enforcement to access devices wouldn’t be able to both provide security and protect privacy.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.