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FBI Director Comey Admits 'Mistake Made' in Changing Apple Password

In the first 24 hours, the FBI asked San Bernardino County to make the change.

Composite image by Re/code

FBI Director James Comey for the first time admitted that “there was a mistake made” when the agency directed that the Apple ID password associated with the shooter’s phone be changed.

Comey made the admission today, in response to a question raised during a House Judiciary Committee hearing into the question of encryption. One committee member asked whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation had foreclosed the possibility of obtaining a current backup of a phone used by one of the shooters, Syed Farook, when it directed his employer to change the password on the account.

“There was a mistake made in the first 24 hours, where the county, at the FBI’s request, made it hard to make the phone back up by [changing the password of] the iCloud account,” Comey said in testimony.

The FBI had previously stated that changing the password wasn’t a screw-up.

Comey quickly added that experts say a backup of the iPhone 5c would not have yielded all the information investigators hope to retrieve from the device.

Apple has claimed that this misstep set in motion the current legal clash over a court order that the company develop software to disable the security on the phone so that FBI investigators can gain access to the data stored on the phone by hacking its password.

In earlier statements, the FBI said the password change allowed it to see previous backups of the phone; the trouble was, the last backup was six weeks before the Dec. 2 attack. With the password change, the FBI could not do what Apple was advising — to plug the phone in to a power source overnight and allow the device to connect to a wireless network, in the hope that the phone would back up again.

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