FBI Director James Comey confirmed that a “mistake” resulted in FBI and San Bernardino, California, investigators resetting an account that made it harder to access an iPhone linked to a deadly terrorist attack there.
But Comey said the government would still be fighting gadget giant Apple to get tools that bypass other security features on the phone, regardless of the slip.
Apple and the FBI have been publicly battling each other for weeks over the iPhone, including the testimony by Comey, an Apple executive and others at a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday.
This month, U.S. law enforcement won a court order telling Apple it needed to create tools for the FBI to break into an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. But Apple has refused, arguing that the order is a wild government overreach and that creating such software could jeopardize the digital privacy of millions of consumers.
Apple has also argued that because the FBI, without consulting the company, changed the password to a remote iCloud account associated with the phone, the device couldn’t automatically back itself up when connected to a familiar Wi-Fi network automatically. That could have eliminated the need to unlock the phone with Apple’s help. “Had the FBI consulted Apple first, this litigation may not have been necessary,” the company said in a filing.
During his testimony, Comey called the password change a “mistake” for the first time, but he rejected the idea that averting the slip-up would have precluded the need for the FBI to seek Apple’s help to delve deeper into the device.
“There was a mistake made in that 24 hours after the attack, where the county, at the FBI’s request, took steps that made it hard, impossible later, to cause the phone to back up again to the iCloud,” Comey said, answering a question from New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler.
“We would still be in litigation,” Comey said. “The experts tell me there’s no way we would have gotten everything off the phone from a backup.”