Apple questioned the statement of Attorney General William Barr that the company has not helped federal investigators unlock two iPhones used by the Saudi shooter who killed three people at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, last month.
Barr made the statement on Monday as He announced that the shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station was an "act of terrorism."
In a statement issued Monday night, Apple said it began helping investigators "within hours of the first FBI request" on December 6, the day the Saudi pilot, second lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani, shot against the service members at the base.
"The FBI only notified us on January 6 that they needed additional assistance, one month after the attack," Apple said. "Only then did we find out about the existence of a second iPhone associated with the investigation and the FBI's inability to access any of the iPhone."
Barr's comments, and Apple's prolonged rebuttal, rekindled a long-standing dispute between the company and law enforcement for decrypting passwords encrypted on the suspects' iPhone, which has implications for consumer privacy.
Barr: & # 39; Apple has not provided us with any substantive assistance & # 39;
During a press conference on Monday, Barr said investigators recovered two iPhones badly damaged by the dead shooter. It is believed that the gunman shot one of them in an effort to render it unusable.
The researchers rebuilt both phones, but could not bypass the encrypted passwords to gain access to the data.
"We have asked Apple for help in unlocking the shooter's iPhones," Barr said. "So far, Apple has not provided us with any substantive assistance. This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators can access digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause."
In his statement, Apple said: "We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in Pensacola's investigation. Our responses to its many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and ongoing."
In addition to the initial FBI request on the day of the shooting, Apple said it responded to six other legal requests for information between December 7 and 14. The company said it provided iCloud backups, account information and transaction data for several accounts.
"We responded to each request promptly, often in a matter of hours, sharing information with the FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York," the company said. "The consultations resulted in many gigabytes of information we provided to the researchers. In each case, we responded with all the information we had."
Apple said it received a subpoena regarding the second iPhone on January 8, "to which we responded in a matter of hours."
The company did not say what answer it provided to the Department of Justice.
Barr made his comments as part of a press conference describing the Department of Justice's investigation into the shooting of the 21-year-old Saudi pilot.
The pilot, who was part of a US training program. UU. For the Saudi army, he died in the uproar. Three members of the US service were killed and eight others were injured.
Investigators discovered that on September 11 of last year, the shooter published on social media that "the countdown has begun." He visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City during the Thanksgiving weekend, and posted "anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadist messages" on social media two hours before the attack, Barr said.
Days after the attack, the Navy punished more than 300 Saudi citizens who trained to be pilots. The undersecretary of Defense, David Norquist, ordered Defense intelligence officials to review and strengthen the investigation procedures.
The dispute reflects one after the San Bernardino attack
Barr's reprimand of Apple in Pensacola's investigation reflects a confrontation between the FBI and the tech giant that involves an iPhone recovered in a mass shooting in 2015 in San Bernardino, California, which left 14 people dead.
In that case, the FBI went to federal court with the demand that Apple help investigators gain access to a phone recovered from the terrorist Syed Farook, who was killed along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, in a shooting with the authorities After the attack.
The FBI abandoned its challenge after obtaining the assistance of an external contractor who managed to bypass the iPhone access code.
In the case of San Bernardino, the FBI effort was led by the then Director James Comey, who argued that the office sought access to the private telephone used by the San Bernardino attacker, and did not want to set a radical precedent to gain access. to all encrypted devices.
Apple and other US technology companies. UU. They feared that FBI litigation would set a dangerous precedent that would open the door to dozens of local, state and federal officials seeking to force companies to build backdoors on encrypted devices.
In arguing for access, Comey told a House panel in 2016 that the FBI had extensive negotiations with Apple before filing the lawsuit.
"By the way, they were very useful," Comey said. "I want to make sure that people understand that there are no demons in this dispute or in the wider dispute (over encryption). Apple has been very cooperative. We just arrived at a place where they were not willing to offer the relief that the government I was asking. Stop. "
Apple, which has promoted its privacy protections for consumers, addressed the broader debate in its statement Monday night.
"We have always maintained that there is no backdoor just for the good guys," the company said. "The back doors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the security of our customers' data."
Barr declined to say whether the Justice Department would file a similar lawsuit against the technology giant.
Contributing: Kristine Phillips