FBI Yet to Access Texas
November 10, 2017
The FBI has yet to gain access to data on Devin Kelley's phone
four days after the former airman killed 26 churchgoers in Texas
in the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history, Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Thursday, blaming
"warrant-proof encryption" for impeding criminal investigations.
The FBI's San Antonio office sent Kelley's encrypted phone to
the bureau's crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, earlier this week
after agents were unable to unlock it, Christopher Combs, the
special agent in charge of the FBI's office in San Antonio,
Texas, said Tuesday.
But Rosenstein, speaking at the BWI Business partnership
organization in Maryland, said the FBI has been unable to access
"the data inside because of encryption."
"Nobody has a legitimate privacy interest in that phone,"
Rosenstein said. "The suspect is deceased. Even if he were
alive, it would be legal for police and prosecutors to find out
what is in the phone."
The FBI declined to say whether the bureau had been able to
unlock the phone but unable to access its encrypted data.
Kelley killed 26 people and injured 20 others at a church in
Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday before turning the gun on
The FBI has not identified the make or model of Kelley's phone,
but the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that it was an
Apple said on Wednesday that it "immediately" reached out to the
FBI after "learning that investigators were trying to access a
"We offered assistance and said we'd expedite our response to
any legal process they send us," Apple said in a statement.
Rosenstein said "strong encryption is good," but he criticized
technology companies for building devices and applications that
make it difficult for law enforcement authorities even with a
warrant to access encrypted data.
A 2016 legal dispute between the FBI and Apple over the bureau's
effort to gain access to the phone of San Bernardino mass
shooter Syed Rizwan Farok fueled a national debate over privacy
and public safety.
The FBI obtained a warrant to unlock the phone, but the data was
encrypted and Apple refused to help the bureau gain access to
showdown ended after the FBI was able to open the device with
the use of an unnamed third party.
FBI officials have long expressed frustration over increasingly
sophisticated encryption technology that makes it harder for law
enforcement to access devices and data.
In the first 11 months of the 2017 fiscal year, the FBI was
unable to access the content of nearly 7,000 smartphones, more
than half the total number of devices the bureau tried to
access, FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week.
"And that's a huge, huge problem," Wray said. "It impacts
investigations across the board — narcotics, human trafficking,
counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime
and child exploitation."