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FBI asks Apple to help unlock iPhones of suspected Navy base shooter, report says

The iPhone maker has wrangled in the past with the FBI over unlocking devices.


CEO Tim Cook has championed strong encryption and Apple's efforts to protect customer data. 


The FBI has reportedly asked Apple to help unlock two iPhones that may belong to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the suspected gunman in a shooting at a Florida Navy base last month that left three people dead. In a letter sent Monday to Apple's general counsel, the FBI said it has court permission to search the phones but investigators have so far been unable to guess the passcodes, according to NBC News.

Apple has tussled with the FBI over unlocking devices in the past. Back in 2016, Apple resisted the FBI's attempt to force the company to unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist, setting up a legal battle between security and privacy. However, the FBI found a third party to unlock the phone and the case largely faded from public debate. A separate case in New York in 2016 that involved a confessed drug dealer ended in a similar fashion, with the FBI dropping its request for Apple's help after finding another way into the iPhone.

Apple didn't immediately respond to CNET's request for comment but told NBC News that it works cooperatively with law enforcement. 

"When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession," Apple said in a statement to NBC News. 

The FBI has also sought help from other federal agencies, experts from other countries and "familiar contacts in the third-party vendor community" to unlock Alshamrani's iPhones, according to NBC News.

The FBI declined to comment. 

Originally published Jan. 7, 6:10 a.m. PT.
Update, 6:25 a.m.: Adds more background.