Law enforcement officials investigating the Nov. 5 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, have served Apple with a warrant for the data held on an iPhone SE used by the shooter.
The warrant was served two days after a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said during a press conference that the agency was unable to decrypt the phone and criticized technology companies for making encryption more ubiquitous on their devices.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, the warrant covers data stored in the iCloud account of the shooter Devin Patrick Kelley. Another warrant for data stored on an LG phone used by Kelley was also issued.
The FBI’s statements about decrypting Kelley’s iPhone have ignited speculation that another showdown between Apple and the FBI over encryption is in the works. Last year, Apple opposed the FBI’s efforts to force the company to decrypt a phone used by a mass shooter in San Bernardino. In the Sutherland Springs case, Apple has not received a request for technical assistance with the phone, a spokesperson said.
Depending on how often Kelley backed up his phone to iCloud, many of his messages and photos may be accessible to law enforcement. However, if no recent backups exist, information about Kelley’s digital life might be stored only on the device. If he had Touch ID enabled, the iPhone could have been unlocked with Kelley’s fingerprint during the first 48 hours after the shooting. But after the 48 hour window expires, iPhones can typically only be unlocked with a passcode.
In the San Bernardino case, the FBI attempted to compel Apple to create special software to override the device’s encryption. However, the legal dispute ended when the FBI was able to access the device with the help of an unidentified third-party firm.