As the FBI follows up on every tip and stand of evidence in the case of the holiday party massacre in San Bernardino, one lead has led the U.S. Department of Justice back a long-standing dispute with Apple over encryption and consumer protections.
Only able to confirm that there were two individuals involved with the San Bernardino shooting, which left 14 dead and 22 injured, the FBI continued investigating the possibility of a third shooter when it executed a search warrant at the residence in Corona, California on Thursday afternoon.
The subject residence had been occupied by Syed Raheel Farook, the older brother of Syed Rizwan Farook. The younger Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, have been confirmed to be the shooters behind the Dec. 2 attack.
"What we have confirmed is evidence indicating that two weapons were fired at the Inland Regional Center," Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI Los Angeles said to ABC News. "But in the absence of video it's something you can't entirely rule out until every question is answered. There's still unanswered questions."
To answer those unanswered questions, the FBI is again twisting Apple's arm to convince the tech firm into breaking the encryption that has been protecting the contents of one of the shooters' iPhone. The bureau has been unable to locate a hard drive taken from the couple's desktop computer.
One of the main reasons the FBI is targeting Farook's iPhone is because they believe he stopped backing up the phone's data to iCloud a month or so before he and his wife carried out the attack against his co-workers.
The FBI asked Apple to break the phone's encryption to find out what Farook apparently didn't want to be stored on iCloud. But instead of giving into yet another Justice Department demand to compromise the integrity of arguably its most valuable asset, Apple offered another solution.
That solution entailed connecting the iPhone to Farook's home network or another known Wi-Fi hotspot, thus, creating another iCloud backup of the phone's data. That idea might have worked if the government of San Bernardino County, Farook's employer, had not reset the password on the iPhone.
Some initially accused the FBI of resetting the password in order to further compel Apple to breaking in, but it was later revealed that the County, which had custody of the iPhone, had one of its IT tech reset it. Although the county, in a tweet, has asserted that it was only following orders.
The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI's request.
— CountyWire (@CountyWire) February 20, 2016
The Fight For Liberty
With no way into the front or side doors of the iPhone, authorities looked to Apple for a backdoor. But not only did a federal magistrate judge order Apple to break in, it mandated that the company build a backdoor into iOS and provide a master key for law enforcement agencies.
In an open letter, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained why building a master key for iOS was a bad idea - and security expert John MacAfee backed him up. Such a key, which doesn't exist, would give anyone the ability to unlock any iPhone they can get their hands on, he stated.
"The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor," Cook said. "And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."
While Apple says it has done everything within its power to assist the FBI so far, it says it intends to fight the judge's latest order. The order, which invokes the All Writs Act of 1789, could set a dangerous precedent that would give the government the power to pry into virtually any consumer electronics device, Cook asserted.
"Opposing this order is not something we take lightly," said Cook. "We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government."
"We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications," Cook added.