PENSACOLA, Fla. – The FBI wants Apple's help extracting data from a pair of iPhones owned by the gunman who rampaged through a Pensacola Navy training facility last month.
The government has been unable to crack the personal security on two phones owned by a Royal Saudi Air Force first lieutenant who shot three people and wounded eight others Dec. 6 at Naval Air Station Pensacola before he was shot and killed by deputies.
Investigators suspect the phones' contents could shed more light on what motivated the shooter and how he planned the attack.
Still, Apple has fought the government's requests to build a "backdoor" through iPhone encryption in the past, and the current situation stands to revive a debate over technology firms' legal and ethical obligations when consumer privacy butts up against national security.
In a statement on the issue, Apple said it is cooperating with the FBI.
“We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations," the statement said. "When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.”
Still, it's reported the FBI wants the tech giant's assistance circumventing the password locks on the phones, a type of request Apple has denied in the past.
In 2015, a different gunman killed 14 people during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. During the subsequent investigation, the FBI was unable to crack the shooter's iPhone password and asked Apple for help.
At the time, Apple officials said they made Apple engineers available to the FBI and did everything within their power and within the law to help the agency. Apple balked, however, when the FBI asked the company to create and install a new operating system circumventing several important security features.
At the time, the company wrote in an open letter, "Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."
A federal judge ordered Apple to comply with the FBI's request, but the case died on the vine when the FBI found a private company to crack the phone.