Steubenville rape trial also hindered by iPhone encryption

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (WCMH)–A court order to unlock an Apple iPhone of a known mass murderer in San Bernardino is causing widespread disagreement over whether it could breach the privacy of millions of Americans.

Apple IPhoneEvidence on smartphones, especially the Apple iPhone, is nearly impossible to extract without a password. The iPhone in question resets to factory default after 10 attempts, in essence deleting all data.

A well-known local case, the Steubenville rape trial, had vast amounts of iPhone video that experts say was not accessible because of the strong encryption on the iPhone 4s.

NBC4 spoke with a leader at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation about what can be done.

Trent and Richmond
Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond

The rape trial for two Steubenville high school football players, Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, gained international attention in 2013. Underlying the trial were the difficulties investigators said they had trying to crack into the teens’ iPhones looking for evidence.

“We got into a lot of evidence in those phones that was very helpful in the investigation and in the prosecution, but there was evidence particularly video and photographs that had layers of encryption we weren’t able to get into,” said Tom Stickrath, Superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Investigation based in London, Ohio.

This is the same problem the FBI is running into asking Apple for a backdoor for law enforcement investigations.

“The key is finding that backdoor that can be used appropriately by law enforcement with the appropriate judicial oversight. Search warrants and appropriate court involvement,” Stickrath said.

Strickrath said law enforcement can work with private companies to serve both ends.

“I think we need to work with those manufacturers and providers with the Apples and Googles to work together to solve that problem, because we recognize the privacy interests,”  said Stickrath.

Stickrath says it has only been in the last several years where the encryption has outpaced law enforcement’s ability to gather evidence from crimes related to smart phones.

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