At half past eight on April 24th, Barbara Mills received a loving text message from her daughter, Brittney.
“I have you and I’m greatful [sic] you know that I love you so much and I don’t know where I would be without you.”
That was the last time Mills heard from her daughter.
Later that night, a man came to Brittney’s apartment in Baton Rouge and within seconds, gunshots rang out. Brittney died in the hospital that night.
As details of Brittney’s murder were made public, the case soon became embroiled in a national debate when investigators discovered a locked iPhone belonging to Brittney in her apartment. Police believed unlocking the phone would offer clues into the search for her killer.
In September 2014, Apple announced that it would not be able to access devices running the latest operating system, iOS 8. Since Brittney’s phone was running iOS 8, Baton Rouge police were able to get metadata, including call lists and SMS messages sent, but not able to access the iMessages and other data that was not backed up to her iCloud account.
The FBI says it has gained access on its own to the encrypted iPhone used by one of one of the shooters in last December’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, so the Justice Department has dropped its demand to compel Apple to help unlock the phone.
But the controversy is far from over.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said there are as many as 80 phones that he is unable to unlock that he thinks could help investigators. And in jurisdictions around the country local prosecutors have the same problem.
Still, privacy advocates worry that gaining access to individuals’ smartphones could set a dangerous precedent, compromising not only individual privacy rights but the entire digital security infrastructure.