FBI scrambling to access Texas church shooter’s cellphone

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As authorities continue their investigation into Sunday’s horrific mass shooting at a First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, one setback threatens to result in a possible “encryption showdown” with technology companies, authorities revealed Tuesday.

So far, federal investigators have not been able to access the cell phone belonging to the deceased gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, due to the security settings on the phone.

Christopher Combs, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, said at a press conference Tuesday, “It actually highlights an issue that you’ve all heard about before, with the advance of the technology and the phones and the encryptions. Law enforcement — whether that’s at the state and local or at the federal level — is increasingly not able to get into these phones.”

Authorities had the same problem after the San Bernardino, California terror attack in 2015, when Apple refused to help investigators as they need to break into an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters, Syed Farook. Finally, the FBI got into the phone without Apple’s help, but they had to pay another company almost $1 million to hack into it.

Combs said the FBI is currently trying to get into Kelley’s phone, and vowed that they “will continue until we find an answer.” He added, “I don’t know how long that’s going to be.”

The phone has been flown to an FBI lab for analysis, but so far, they have had no luck breaking into it. Combs refused to give the make or model of the phone, saying he didn’t want to “tell every bad guy out there what phone to buy.”

Ironically, the Department of Justice just brought up the topic of a pending battle with major technology companies over encryption last month.  The Washington Examiner noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in October, “When investigations of violent criminal organizations come to a halt because we cannot access a phone, lives may be lost. The approach taken in the recent past, negotiating with technology companies and hoping that they eventually will assist law enforcement out of a sense of civic duty, is unlikely to work.”

Apple, and other major companies, have claimed that if they create a way around the encryptions, it could allow hackers to more easily steal information.

 

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