Apple Slapped With Search Warrant To Unlock Texas Church Shooter's iPhone

Here we go again. In 2016, authorities tried to legally compel Apple to unlock an iPhone model that belonged to one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino shooting that left more than a dozen people dead. Apple resisted, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation dropped its lawsuit before the legal matter had a chance to fully play out in court. That may still happen, as authorities in Texas have searched Apple with a search warrant for various data contained on an iPhone belonging to Devin Patrick Kelley, the person behind the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs.

Kelley slaughtered 26 people in a church before being shot dead himself by police. His motivation and other details surrounding the horrific event are not clear, so the FBI is eager to unlock his iPhone and see if he had any links to militant groups, or any other details that might be pertinent to the investigation. That would have been an easy task if authorities had contacted Apple right away for assistance, but they waited too long. There are security measures on iPhones that require a prompt response in these situations. For example, the fingerprint sensor (Touch ID) on iPhone devices does not work if it has not been used in the past 48 hours.


"They're in the process of looking at the phone," Christopher Combs, the special agent leading the investigation, told reporters at the time. "Unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to get into that phone."

Combs is helping the Texas Rangers in the investigation, which are the ones who hit Apple with a search warrant. The warrant requests access to files on Kelley's iPhone SE, along with is iCloud account (if it exists). It also requests files on a second phone owned by Kelley, a completely different model built by LG.

It remains to be seen how all this will ultimately play out. In the first go-round between the FBI and Apple, the FBI ultimately relented after it was able to crack the San Bernardino iPhone with the help of a third-party. Once that happened, the FBI dropped its lawsuit, and the matter was shelved for another day.

In this instance, Apple claims it did not learn that Kelley owned an iPhone until the FBI held a press conference, and by then it was too late to assist. It's not clear why the FBI did not go straight to Apple this time around. The only thing that is clear right now is that Apple and the FBI remain on opposite sides of the debate over smartphone encryption.