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Apple rejects claim it has been unhelpful in naval base shooting probe

U.S. Attorney General William Barr recently alleged Apple Inc. did not provide any "substantive assistance" in the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into a shooting at a military station in Pensacola, Fla., but Apple "rejects the characterization."

During a Jan. 13 speech at the naval air station in Florida where the incident in question occurred in December 2019, Barr noted that the shooter possessed two Apple iPhones and, despite receiving court authorization to search the phones, Apple had not helped them successfully unlock the phones.

"This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause," said Barr in written remarks. "We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks."

Apple, however, is pushing back on Barr's claim that the company has not been helpful, saying in an emailed statement Jan. 14 that the company's responses to "their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing."

According to Apple, the FBI only notified the company a month after the attack that a second iPhone was associated with the investigation and that it also could not be accessed. The company said it responded to the subpoena it received for that information "within hours."

Tech companies have been at odds with lawmakers and the DOJ over access to encrypted devices frequently in recent years.

For instance, lawmakers from both parties in December 2019 urged tech companies to develop a so-called backdoor to allow law enforcement to access information on the devices of suspected criminals. Barr also signed on a letter in October 2019 encouraging Facebook Inc. not to implement an end-to-end encryption plan across its messaging services without allowing for a way for communications content to be lawfully accessed. In response, Facebook said that allowing backdoor access would be "a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes."

Apple echoed that sentiment in its own statement.

"We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys," Apple said. "Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers."