FBI Director James Comey has admitted that investigators made a “mistake” after the shooting in San Bernardino when they reset the iCloud password associated with one of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook.
This mea culpa of sorts comes just a few days after the FBI said it hadn't been a mistake.
“As I understand from the experts, there was a mistake made in that 24 hours after the attack where the [San Bernardino] county at the FBI’s request took steps that made it hard—impossible—later to cause the phone to back up again to the iCloud,” Comey said during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
But when the Department of Justice first revealed that Farook’s iCloud password had been reset by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, the FBI released a statement essentially denying that changing the password was a mistake.
Comey appeared in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for a hearing on the FBI’s fight with Apple over accessing the phone of the San Bernardino shooter, who killed 14 people in a rampage on December 5 of last year. The FBI has recently requested Apple to disable some security features on the phone, which would allow the bureau’s agents to guess the passcode to unlock the shooter’s iPhone 5C. Apple has fought the request in the court, as well as with an unusual media push, arguing that this case would set a dangerous precedent.
In a call with reporters last week, Apple argued that had the password not been changed, the investigators could have forced the phone to backup to iCloud without having to unlock it.
But during the hearing Comey added that either way, this mistake wouldn’t have changed much, because the data the FBI is interested in would likely not have been on Farook’s iCloud.
“The experts have told me I’d still be sitting here,” Comey said. “We would still be in litigation because the experts tell me there is no way we would have gotten everything off the phone from a backup. I have to take them at their word.”
And FBI spokesperson did not answer to a request for comment to clarify and expand on Comey’s remarks.