FBI agents investigating the murder-suicide of 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, have said they can't yet unlock the shooter's smartphone.
In a press conference on Tuesday, special agent Chris Combs said that investigations into the motives and actions of the gunman was ongoing, but that his mobe was a closed book to them.
"With the advance of technology, and the phones, and the encryption, law enforcement at the state, local or federal level is increasingly unable to get into phones," Combs said. "I'm not going to say what kind of phone it is, I'm not going to tell every bad guy what phone to buy to harass our efforts to try to find justice here."
The cops say the mass shooting was sparked by a family dispute, and that the murderer's mother-in-law was living in the town. She was not at the church service, though, when the gunman, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, entered and killed two dozen people, who were aged 18 months to 77 years, and injured a further 20 folk.
It looks as though the FBI is going to get into another showdown with a phone manufacturer over the unlocking of a handset, as it did with the San Bernardino shooter and Apple. In that case the killer destroyed all of his laptops and cellphones, except his work iPhone.
The Feds tried to force Apple to unlock the mobe after the agency failed to get past the PIN screen. The iGiant refused to make special software to bypass the security mechanisms in the device, and aggressively fought the US government in court to resist the order. Later, the agency gave up the battle, and found a third party to break into the phone for it.
According to its latest statements, the FBI has almost 7,000 smartphones that it can't get past the passcode screens or otherwise access. However, with the church mass-murder such an emotive case, it may use this one to take another legal stand, and force a handset maker to unlock and decrypt the Texas gunman's phone, as part of its wider campaign for breakable encryption in consumer electronics. ®