Past issues with passwords
The situation is a reminder of last year’s fight between Apple and the F.B.I. At the time, law enforcement wanted to get into the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 of Mr. Farook’s co-workers at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., in late 2015.
In that case, a federal judge ordered Apple to help the F.B.I. The judge asked Apple to “bypass or disable” the security feature that wipes a phone clean after 10 incorrect password attempts. Apple argued that creating the technology to bypass its own security would compromise its users’ safety.
Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, penned a 1,100-word letter to customers, warning that the government’s request would lead to a “chilling” breach of privacy.
What the authorities can do
In the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs shooting, the authorities could have used Mr. Kelley’s fingers for up to 48 hours after he last opened his iPhone to activate the biometric Touch ID function to gain access to the device. It is unclear why officials did not do so. After 48 hours, law enforcement would need a passcode to open the phone.
In the San Bernardino case, the F.B.I. was ultimately able to open the iPhone without help from Apple. It’s unclear what methods law enforcement has tried in the Texas case.
Whether or not the government finds evidence on Mr. Kelley’s iPhone, the case could again thrust Apple into the middle of a debate over how we balance the needs of citizens and their right to privacy with the needs of law enforcement working on tough cases.
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