Bipartisan Members Question FBI Handling of San Bernardino Shooter’s Locked iPhone

April 13, 2018
Press Release
Department of Justice IG Report finds FBI did not seek available unlocking tools from third party vendors, suggests FBI was more interested in advancing court case against Apple than accessing device.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), joined by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Jared Polis (D-Col.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) released a bipartisan letter to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director Christopher Wray calling into question the Bureau’s handling of Syed Rizwan Farook’s locked iPhone in the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino attack.

The letter cites a troubling Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report which found the primary forensics unit responsible for unlocking the iPhone did not consult with third-party vendors, nor relevant FBI offices – including the unit which already knew of a potential solution. The report suggests that FBI officials were not exhausting all technical options “precisely because they wanted the suit against Apple to go forward.”

The members write:

“This report undermines statements that the FBI made during the San Bernardino litigation and consistently since then, that only the device manufacturer could provide a solution. Moreover, recent reports that companies such as Cellebrite and GrayShift have developed tools to cheaply unlock nearly every phone on the market, including every version of iOS, raise even more concerns that the FBI has not been forthcoming about the extent of the “Going Dark” problem.”

In light of this troubling Inspector General report, along with reports that the FBI encountered 7,800 devices last year that it claims could not access due to encryption, the members ask FBI Director Wray to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. Have you consulted with relevant third-party vendors to understand what tools are available to help the FBI access device content?
  2. Do you agree that there are solutions available to help unlock or decrypt nearly every device on the market? If not, why are these solutions, particularly the ones discussed above, insufficient?
  3. Why can’t the FBI unlock the 7,800 devices? Have you attempted to use tools developed by third-parties to unlock these devices?
  4. Of these locked phones, how many are equipped with biometrics or how many have data available through a cloud service, which would provide additional means to access data or unlock phones?
  5. For each device that you have not used a third-party tool to unlock, what is the rationale for not doing so?

Read the full letter here.