Pensacola, FL – U.S. Attorney General William Barr blasted Apple for refusing to help provide access to two phones used by the gunman who murdered three sailors and wounded eight others during last month’s terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
“We have asked Apple for help in unlocking the shooter’s phones,” Barr told reporters during a press conference on Monday. “So far, Apple has not given any substantive assistance.”
Barr noted that investigators have determined the attack was an “act of terrorism,” and that the shooter, 21-year-old Saudi Arabia aviation student Mohammed Alshamrani, was motivated by jihadist ideology, Business Insider reported.
Although Apple has the capability of breaking the encryption on the killer’s phones, it has refused to do so under the argument that creating such “backdoors” for law enforcement investigations could jeopardize the privacy of all users’ phones.
The company said it has been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since the attack, and that it has provided investigators with access to Alshamrani’s iCloud account and payment information related to several other accounts, The New York Times reported.
But Apple refused to break the devices’ encryption, which has been widely touted as impossible to crack.
Barr argued that in doing so, Apple has refused to give them access to much of the information investigators really need.
“We don’t want to get into a world where we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance,” he said, according to The New York Times. “We should be able to get in when we have a warrant that establishes that criminal activity is underway.”
“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence,” he added.
The attorney general called on Apple and other technology companies to help find a solution in order to “better protect the lives of American people and prevent future attacks.”
Following the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California that left 14 victims and two shooters dead, a federal judge ordered Apple to assist the FBI in bypassing the security features on the gunmen’s phones, Business Insider reported.
But the company refused, arguing that doing so would “threaten the security” of their customers.
The FBI subsequently filed a lawsuit against Apple for failing to comply with the federal court’s order, but abandoned the suit after the government paid an undisclosed party $900,000 to bypass the phone’s security instead, Business Insider reported.
“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” Apple said in a statement in response to Barr’s press conference. “”Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers.”
“Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations,” the company declared. “We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.”
President Donald Trump also lashed out at Apple on Tuesday, demanding that the company “step up to the plate” to help protect citizens.
“We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements,” the President tweeted. “They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country, NOW! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”