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FBI statement: iCloud password reset with FBI consent
Recent media reports have suggested that technicians in the county of San Bernardino independently conducted analysis and took steps to reset the iCloud account password associated with the iPhone 5C that was recovered during a federal search following the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others on December 2, 2015. This is not true. FBI investigators worked cooperatively with the county of San Bernardino in order to exploit crucial data contained in the iCloud account associated with a county-issued iPhone that was assigned to the suspected terror suspect, Syed Rizwan Farook.
Since the iPhone 5C was locked when investigators seized it during the lawful search on December 3rd, a logical next step was to obtain access to iCloud backups for the phone in order to obtain evidence related to the investigation in the days following the attack. The FBI worked with San Bernardino County to reset the iCloud password on December 6th, as the county owned the account and was able to reset the password in order to provide immediate access to the iCloud backup data. The reset of the iCloud account password does not impact Apple’s ability to assist with the the court order under the All Writs Act.
The last iCloud data backup of the iPhone 5C was 10/19 and, based on other evidence, investigators know that Syed Rizwan Farook had been using the phone after 10/19. It is unknown whether an additional iCloud backup of the phone after that date — if one had been technically possible — would have yielded any data.
Through previous testing, we know that direct data extraction from an iOS device often provides more data than an iCloud backup contains. Even if the password had not been changed and Apple could have turned on the auto-backup and loaded it to the cloud, there might be information on the phone that would not be accessible without Apple’s assistance as required by the All Writs Act order, since the iCloud backup does not contain everything on an iPhone. As the government’s pleadings state, the government’s objective was, and still is, to extract as much evidence as possible from the phone.