FBI Can’t Open the Cellphone Belonging to Texas Church Shooter

The FBI hopes a cell phone belonging to the gunman who killed 26 people in a Texas church might provide clues about the crime, but has run into a familiar problem: The agency can’t get around the phone’s password protection to unlock it.

Special Agent Christopher Combs yesterday told reporters the FBI has flown the phone of the late Devin Kelley to Quantico, Va., for analysis, but a forensic team has been unable to open it. Combs did not specify whether the device was an Apple iPhone or another model.

Combs’s announcement appears to foreshadow another stand-off between law enforcement and the tech industry over the encryption techniques used to protect many smartphones. The issue gained prominence in 2016 when the FBI sued Apple, demanding it unlock an iPhone belonging to a dead terrorist who murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.

The highly publicized court case ended quietly, however, when the FBI found a technique to break into the phone on its own accord. But the underlying legal issue—which turns on whether companies like Apple must provide law enforcement with so-called “back doors” into devices—remains unresolved.

Legal observers have speculated that law enforcement has been on the lookout for another high profile test case, and the Texas church shooting may fit the bill. (In the recent vehicle rampage in New York City, the phone of the dead terrorist was reportedly unlocked).

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SOURCE: Fortune, Jeff John Roberts