Court docs say Apple cooperated with FBI after San Bernardino

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Court docs say Apple cooperated with FBI after San BernardinoA court filing from Apple suggests that the Cupertino company responded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s requests to provide information on the San Bernardino shootings of late 2015, and did so only three days after the incident, proving the required information in a prompt and timely manner.

According to the filing, FBI officials contacted Apple’s 24-hour emergency hotline on the afternoon of December 5, which was just three days after San Bernardino couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people. This self-styled terrorist act has returned to the headlines in recent weeks, as privacy and security advocates – usually allied on similar goals – have been debating about what law enforcement officials should do to Farook’s iPhone 5c, and whether the FBI’s demands from Apple are beyond the agency’s jurisdiction or not.

The filing specifies that Apple turned in two batches of information on December 5, after the company was asked to provide subscriber data. The declaration from Apple Global Privacy & Law Enforcement Compliance Team manager Lisa Olle does not specify what kind of information this was, but it’s speculated that this was iCloud subscriber data. On December 6, Apple was served a search warrant for emails, text messages, and other sensitive data related to three separate accounts. Ten days after that, officials asked Apple to furnish information on one name and seven separate accounts. For all these requests, Apple was able to comply within the same day.

In addition, Olle’s statement suggests that Apple was served a search warrant on January 22 for Farook’s iCloud account, seeking the same data requested a month prior. Apple furnished the data, albeit on January 26, four days after the warrant was served. And in another interesting note, the FBI apparently ordered the San Bernardino County Department of Health, where Farook had previously worked, to reset the Apple ID password on his iPhone 5c. This was done on December 6, without first asking Apple’s permission. Apple officials, including company Chief Executive Tim Cook, decried the move, as it circumvented any chances of using iCloud’s automatic sync to create a backup without having to unlock the phone.

“Throughout the investigation, I and other Apple representatives, including a senior engineer, continually made ourselves available to the government, on a 24/7 basis, participating in teleconferences, providing technical assistance, answering questions from the FBI, and suggesting potential alternatives for the government to attempt to obtain data from the Subject Device,”  reads Olle’s prepared statement in her court declaration.

FBI officials have not been able to successfully crack Farook’s iPhone 5c, which is protected by layers of encryption designed to stymie forced attempts at cracking. Apple has been asked to create a special version of iOS and to install it on the device, but the company has refused to do so, claiming that the FBI is overstepping its authority and possibly violating the First Amendment in the process. This, according to Apple, could set a precedent in allowing the FBI “limitless power” that could violate civil rights. The FBI, in its defense, has insisted that the exploit it wants Apple to create would only be for Farook’s device, and not for others.