Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey conceded for the first time today that a mistake was made in the early days of the investigation into the San Bernardino. The agency had directed that the Apple ID password associated with the shooter's phone to be changed, making it harder to get data from the phone.
James Comey admits "mistake made" in the San Bernardino investigation
FBI's James Comey has finally made the admission today in a congressional hearing on the issue of encryption. The session was attended by the experts from the technology sector, law enforcement, intelligence, and the civil society. Comey made the admission when a committee member asked whether the FBI had neglected the possibility of getting a current backup of the phone when it directed the shooter's employer to change the password of the account. Comey responded by conceding to having made the mistake:
There was a mistake made in the first 24 hours, where the county, at the FBI’s request, made it hard to make the phone back up by [changing the password of] the iCloud account.
Comey quickly insisted that even without that error, the agency would still need Apple's help to open up a locked iPhone as the backup would not have given investigators all the information. Apple has argued that if the authorities had not reset the password of the iCloud account connected to the phone, the FBI might have been able to access much more data by connecting the phone to a known WiFi network. The password reset foreclosed the possibility of retrieving another backup, something on which both Apple and the Justice Department agree. Earlier, however, the FBI wasn't considering this a mistake:
The FBI worked with San Bernardino County to reset the iCloud password on December 6th, as the county owned the account and was able to reset the password in order to provide immediate access to the iCloud backup data.
It is unknown whether an additional iCloud backup of the phone after that date — if one had been technically possible — would have yielded any data.
Apple has claimed that this mistake was the reason why the agency couldn't gain access to the data stored on the phone by plugging it into a power source and allowing it to connect to a known wireless network. The tech giant is resisting a court order to help the agency by developing a software to disable the security on the phone. Apple's Chief Executive has maintained that the company will fight the court order, as the request is unprecedented and dangerous for user security and privacy.
More on the Apple-FBI legal clash over encryption:
- Here's what Apple said in today's congressional hearing: Apple-FBI Battle Goes to Congress
- Tim Cook Fights for User Privacy, Finds No Support from Other Tech Leaders
- [Tim Cook's open letter]: Tim Cook’s Open Letter On Security: We Will Never Build An iPhone Backdoor
- Apple-FBI Public Battle Takes an Interesting Turn: Ex-NSA Chief Backs Apple, Public in Favor of the FBI
- [Back in 2014]: Government is Using an 18th-Century Act to Push Apple to Assist in Getting Past Encryption