DOJ ups heat on Apple to unlock iPhones in Naval Air Station shooting

Officials have been unable to access the devices because the phones are locked and encrypted

Apple has once again been asked to help extract data from iPhones that belonged to the Saudi aviation student who fatally shot three sailors at a U.S. naval base in Florida last month.

Continue Reading Below

Attorney General William Barr updated the situation during a Monday news conference.

Attorney General William Barr speaks to reporters at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter's phones. So far, Apple has not given any substantive assistance,” said Barr. “This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence once it has obtained a court order based on probable cause. We call on Apple on other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of American people and prevent future attacks.”

The FBI made the first request last week as investigators tried to access two devices — an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 5 that belonged to Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old 2nd Lt. in the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Officials have been unable to access them because the phones are locked and encrypted, according to the letter from the FBI’s general counsel, Dana Boente.


The FBI has a court authorization to search the phones and the devices were sent to the bureau’s lab in Quantico, Virginia.

Alshamrani opened fire at the Pensacola naval base on Dec. 6, killing the three sailors and injuring several others before he was shot dead by a sheriff's deputy.

Mohammed Alshamrani. (FBI via AP, File)

FBI officials have sought help from other federal agencies and other experts and investigators have been trying to guess the passwords, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

"There was a shooting in San Bernadino, a terroristic act killed 14 people and yet the same situation and Apple would not help the government in that case", Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner told FOX Business' Lou Dobbs. "If Apple continues its position, which is supported by groups like the ACLU and other groups on the left, if Apple continues with this, it seems the administration or the government will have to take them to court on this."

Apple responded through the following statements.

"We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing".

Apple added, "We responded to each request promptly, often within hours, sharing information with FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators. In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had".

"We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance. Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation," added Apple.


Apple, Facebook and other tech companies have periodically tussled with the FBI over the end-to-end encryption they have built into their products to protect customers' privacy.

FOX News' Jake Gibson, FOX Business' Blake Burman and The Associated Press contributed to this article.