Pensacola Gunman Damaged iPhone to Prevent Data Recovery

By Chand Bellur

February 5, 2020 at 8:49 p.m. PDT

  • U.S. Attorney General William Barr claims Apple has been uncooperative with the Pensacola shooting investigation.
  • Apple complied with every possible FBI data request, but they refuse to create a backdoor into the iPhone.
  • The Pensacola shooter damaged his iPhone, complicating data recovery.

Pensacola Shooter Damaged iPhone

On December 6, 2019, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani opened fire on U.S. Navy sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola. After Tweeting his hatred of the United States’ support for Israel, the gunman killed three sailors and injured eight others.

During the firefight, Alshamrani shot his iPhone, in an attempt to prevent data retrieval. FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted that, although they were able to reconstruct the shooter’s iPhone, data recovery has proven difficult. They have engaged Apple in the process:

“[he] took the time to shoot one of his own phones to destroy it, so that presumably we, law enforcement, wouldn’t have access to what’s in it…

…we’re currently engaged with Apple, hoping to try to see if we can get better help from them to try to get access to the contents of that phone

William Barr vs. Apple

Politics is becoming more like a reality TV show, with office holders making wild, dramatic claims in front of the cameras. U.S. Attorney General William Barr confronted Apple about their lack of assistance with the Pensacola shooter.

Apple responded with facts. They complied with every possible law enforcement request. Although numerous third-party data recovery firms can hack into the iPhone, Apple refuses to do so. The don’t want to build a back door into their products, as such a design would compromise security.

It remains to be seen if Apple will help decrypt the phone, or if they even have this capability. It’s possible the Cupertino company may assist the FBI in this task, as it doesn’t involve hacking into the device.

Apple Pushes Back on Barr

Large, multinational corporations rarely capitulate to the will of dramatic politicians and their publicity stunts. They tend to operate in the shadows, lobbying for profit-boosting policy. Apple continues to keep the affair low key, however, a statement offered the following defense:

“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.”

FBI Director Wray’s own words admit that they’re working with Apple on this issue. Even if Apple refused to cooperate, there are numerous third-party data recovery firms suited to take on this task. It appears that much of Barr’s criticism of Apple may be more about publicity than reality.

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