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Apple received search warrant over Texas church shooter's phone

The Texas Rangers found an iPhone SE near the body of mass shooter Devin Patrick Kelley. Now, they want Apple to hand over his iCloud data.


The tight security of Apple phones is yet again an issue in a mass shooting.

James Martin/CNET

Devin Patrick Kelley walked into a tiny church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5 and began firing into the Sunday service. He killed 26 people and injured another 20 in the worst mass shooting in the state's history. Investigators searching his vehicle afterward found an Apple iPhone SE covered with blood stains.

The Texas Rangers are trying to access his phone's data, and they've served Apple with a search warrant.

According to court records obtained by the San Antonio Express-News, the search warrant was granted on Nov. 9 for files stored locally on Kelley's phone, as well as any iCloud data that may exist on Apple's servers. It's unclear whether authorities have managed to retrieve any of Kelley's data yet.

Apple's policy on law enforcement requests for data is that it "will only provide content in response to a search warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause." The company previously faced conflict with the FBI over requests to unlock a phone belonging to one of the attackers in a 2015 mass shooting that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Investigators were eventually able to access that phone's data without Apple's help.

An Apple spokesperson told CNET on Monday that the company does not comment on law enforcement matters but added that aside from the warrant, the company has yet to receive any request from law enforcement for technical assistance with the device.

On Nov. 8, Apple said it had contacted the FBI. "We were shocked and saddened by the violence in Texas...and we join the world in grieving for the families and community that lost so many loved ones," Apple said in a statement on Nov. 8. "Our team immediately reached out to the FBI after learning ... that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone. We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us."