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Apple Aiding FBI in Decryption of Texas Shooter's Phone

Apple has offered to help the FBI handle the shooter’s encrypted smartphone in the wake of the attack at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. In a statement, Apple said, “Our team immediately reached out to the FBI after learning from their press conference on Tuesday that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone.” The statement went on to say, “We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us. We work with law enforcement every day. We offer training to thousands of agents so they understand our devices and how they can quickly request information from Apple.” Paul Cambria spoke to WBEN about Apple’s offer and what this could mean going forward for phones involved in major cases. The full interview is available on the WBEN website.

Phone unlock methods

Mr. Cambria told WBEN that he is surprised that Apple reached out to the FBI. “If you recall, in the San Bernardino situation, they refused to help and the FBI wound up spending thousands and thousands of dollars to find someone to unlock the phone,” he explained.

When asked if this creates a tricky situation where Apple can pick and choose which investigations it wants to get involved in, Mr. Cambria responded, “I’m not sure that that’s an issue. All they have to do at this point is get a warrant, meaning the FBI. Apple says they’ll help them. They’ll still need a warrant.”

Mr. Cambria went on to explain that, within 48 hours, the authorities could have used the fingerprint of the person to unlock the phone using its fingerprint ID. “We see it happen all the time now in legal cases. Spouses fall asleep and their other spouse takes the phone and touches their finger on it and then reads all the messages,” he said.

Supreme Court deliberations

WBEN asked Mr. Cambria if this will have to go to the Supreme Court in order to determine how companies should deal with authorities considering all of the new phone technologies, such as Apple’s facial recognition software. “That’s actually happening,” Mr. Cambria responded. “There’s a case bubbling up to the Supreme Court now about the technicalities of a warrant for an iPhone. I actually have a case pending here in Buffalo and my position was that a specific warrant on a specific number has to be gotten each time because your cell phone now has more personal information in it than your home does. And so the court has to protect that. So, we’ll be hearing from the Supreme Court soon on that issue.”

Political motivation

Mr. Cambria was then asked if Apple’s decision to assist in this case was politically motivated, since the company declined to help in the San Bernardino shooting. “I don’t really think that’s the reason,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything to indicate that’s the reason. I think what’s happened is there’s been a change of heart somewhere in the Apple organization concerning any kind of mass shootings.” Mr. Cambria went on to say that “when the courts get involved and serve a warrant, Apple will have to comply.”

Legal issues

On the differences between the two shootings, Mr. Cambria said, “What the issue was in San Bernardino was, can a warrant force Apple to engage in technology as opposed to just cooperate? In other words, make them do something and the argument was, believe it or not, that that could be a 13th Amendment issue. The 13th Amendment is the slavery amendment. So it’s very complicated from a legal standpoint. “

About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.

The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm's offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.

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