Business The United States calls Pensacola's attack terrorism; Apple pressures...

The United States calls Pensacola's attack terrorism; Apple pressures on Gunman's locked phones

-

Attorney General

William Barr

He described the December attack by a Saudi aviation student who killed three people at a Florida Navy base as an act of terrorism, increasing pressure on

Apple Inc.

to help unlock a couple of gunman's iPhones that could provide more information about their radicalization.

Barr asked Apple to find a way to decipher the encrypted phones in a high-profile request that intensified a slow-fire fight between technology companies and the government on how to better balance digital security with the imperatives of criminal investigations.

Second Lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi air force who was training with the US army. UU., Published anti-US UU. messages on social media about two hours before fire opened in a classroom at Pensacola Naval Air Station on December 6, Barr said Monday. The shooting lasted about 15 minutes before Lieutenant Alshamrani was killed by the sheriff's agents.

During the attack, Lieutenant Alshamrani made critical statements about US military actions. UU. Abroad and shot a photo of President Trump, authorities said. In the previous weeks, the armed man used social media to blame the United States for crimes against Muslims, authorities said, who issued a warning on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, that "the countdown has begun ".

Investigators have not found evidence that Lieutenant Alshamrani had accomplices in the United States or that he was inspired by a specific terrorist group, said Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Bowdich. The FBI interviewed more than 500 of its friends, classmates and other associates, and analyzed more than 42 terabytes of digital information, he said.

But Mr. Barr, stepping up a long struggle between law enforcement agencies and Silicon Valley for access to encrypted data, said: "This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public can have access to digital evidence." . He said Apple had not provided "substantive assistance" to enter the two phones, which are locked with unknown and encrypted access codes.

A Justice Department staff member shows photos of two Apple iPhones that Attorney General William Barr said belonged to the gunman.

Photo:

jim lo scalzo / epa / Shutterstock

Apple, in a statement on Monday night, said it always worked cooperatively with law enforcement to help with investigations and rejected Mr. Barr's characterization that he had not provided substantial assistance.

"Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and ongoing," said an Apple spokesman. In response to several legal requests, the company quickly provided a "wide variety of information" when police first contacted it last month, "including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for several accounts," he said. the spokesperson.

Last week, the FBI notified Apple that more assistance was required and alerted the company of a second phone that investigators could not access, the spokesman said, adding that "early disclosure is essential to access information and find additional options".

The Department of Justice under Mr. Barr has increasingly highlighted the difficulties researchers face in accessing encrypted communications for suspects ranging from terrorists to predatory children. Apple and other technology companies have said they help authorities whenever possible, but that creating vulnerabilities in their encrypted products would jeopardize the wider Internet security and make users less secure from cybercriminals.

"It is very important for us to know who and what the shooter communicated with before he died," Barr said Monday.

An undated FBI photo shows Mohammed Alshamrani.

Photo:

FBI / Associated Press

New details about the gunman's views came when the United States said it was expelling 21 Saudi military students from a training program and immediately sending them back to Saudi Arabia. The investigation found no evidence that the students helped plan the attack, but many of them had contact with child pornography and almost all had jihadists or anti-EE. UU. material, said Mr. Barr.

None of the students face federal charges, but everyone was expected to return to their home country later Monday.

The public call from the attorney general came a week after the FBI general counsel sent a letter to Apple requesting help to access the material on Lieutenant Alshamrani's phones. Apple and other companies frequently receive requests for help from the FBI, but the use of a formal letter was considered unusual.

Authorities said investigators obtained a court order within one day of the shooting, but waited a month to contact Apple because they were trying to exhaust other options to try to enter the phones, which the gunman had damaged, firing at one of them. .

A Justice Department official said Monday that Apple had not yet told the department if the company's employees could access the phones themselves. But senior Justice and FBI officials told Congress staff at a conference call on Monday morning that there was nothing Apple could do to unlock the iPhones in question, according to two congressional assistants familiar with the call. Officials criticized Apple for not creating a method to do so, attendees said.

The press conference was Mr. Barr's last attempt to pressure technology companies to broadly adopt the encryption standards that law enforcement officials have complained for a long time, making it difficult for them to unlock the data. digitals that belong to a criminal suspect, even with a court order.

"We don't want to enter a world in which we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when life is at stake," Barr said. "We should be able to enter when we have a court order establishing that there is ongoing criminal activity."

Mr. Barr's comments could set the stage for a confrontation like the one that took place during the last year of the Obama administration when the Justice Department tried to force Apple to create a software update that would break iPhone's privacy protections to get access to a phone connected to a dead gunman responsible for a terrorist attack in 2015 in San Bernardino, California.

Apple refused to comply, and the FBI found a third party that could unlock the device; The conflict was largely seen as an advertising triumph for the iPhone manufacturer.

The government suffered another setback in 2018, when the FBI revealed that it had accidentally inflated public statistics on the amount of encrypted devices that researchers could not open. A new estimate has never been provided.

Because US and Saudi officials omitted signs of possible extremist views of Lieutenant Alshamrani, the shooting drew attention to the review procedures and security concerns surrounding the more than 5,000 members of the international military service, including approximately 850 Saudis, who come to the United States every year to receive training. Military students training in the US UU. They are chosen by their countries of origin.

The Department of Defense is expected to announce the results of a Pentagon review of its procedures as soon as this week. According to the defense authorities, one of the conclusions is that US officials will now examine the training history of candidates on social media as part of the review process.

Secretary of Defense

Mark Esper

He said Sunday that he has already ordered a tighter evaluation.

The shooting occurred during a period of high tension between Washington and Riyadh, but Mr. Barr said the royal government had cooperated in the investigation and assured him that Saudi officials would review the cases of students under their code of military and criminal justice. .

While Mr. Barr has repeatedly lamented the problem of telephone technology in speeches before, this was the first time he had featured it prominently with an individual case. But Mr. Barr remarkably declined to say if the Department of Justice is considering requesting a court order to force Apple to help authorities unlock the devices linked to the Pensacola shooter, which are an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 5. Former officials have said leadership in both The Department of Justice and the FBI seem reluctant to descend into another lengthy legal dispute.

Similarly, there has been little appetite in Congress to try to legislate the "Going Dark" issue in a way that forces companies to develop weaknesses in their products.

Write to Sadie Gurman at [email protected] and Dustin Volz at [email protected]

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