Judge orders Apple to help FBI break into phone of San Bernardino shooter

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Illustrative photographs of locks, chains, iPhones, and Apple computers to illustrate the theme of "security" in all it's forms. Photographed in New York, U.S., on Thursday, June 18, 2015. Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg

(Feb. 16, 2016) — A judge in California ordered Apple on Tuesday to help the FBI break into the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The phone was used by Syed Farook, who — along with his wife — killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December. The couple was later killed in a shootout with police.

Authorities had gotten the consent of the county that owned the phone and a warrant to retrieve data from the device.

“However, despite the search warrant and the owner’s consent, the FBI has been unable to search the SUBJECT DEVICE because it is ‘locked’ or secured with a user-determined, numeric passcode.

“More to the point, the FBI has been unable to make attempts to determine the passcode because Apple has written, or ‘coded,’ its operating systems with a user-enabled ‘auto-erase function’ that would, if enabled, result in the permanent destruction of the required encryption key material after 10 erroneous attempts at the passcode (meaning that after 10 failed attempts at inputting the passcode, the information on the device becomes permanently inaccessible),” the government wrote in documents seeking the order.

Apple has helped the FBI with similar requests in the past but had not so far in this case.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

“We have made a solemn commitment to the victims and their families that we will leave no stone unturned as we gather as much information and evidence as possible. These victims and families deserve nothing less,” Eileen Decker, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement in response to the court order.

“The application filed today in federal court is another step — a potentially important step — in the process of learning everything we possibly can about the attack in San Bernardino,” she said.