FBI wants Apple to unlock iPhone in Boston gang case

According to the Boston Globe, the FBI is asking Apple Inc. to unlock the phone of an alleged member of one of the city’s most notorious gangs, according to court records, but Apple is objecting to the request bringing to the front the government’s high-profile fight with Apple in the San Bernardino terrorism case.

The FBI is specifically attempting to obtain data on an iPhone used by Desmond Crawford, a member of Boston gang Columbia Point Dawgs, who was reportedly involved in a street argument that led to the murdering of a rival gang leader. A search warrant was approved in February for two phones belonging to Desmond Crawford.

As Boston Herald reports, Crawford is suspected of almost everything a gang member can be blamed of these days, including “racketeering, committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering, using a firearm during a crime of violence and being a felon in possession of a firearm.”

One of the things that the FBI seized when they arrested Crawford was an iPhone, which FBI agent Matthew Knight believes could hold information that’s vital in their investigation. According to him, the iPhone contains contact information for other gang members, associates, and drug customers. Knight also said messages on the phone probably detailed Crawford’s gun- and drug-trafficking activities, plus plans for the drive-by shooting.

Based on wiretapped phone conversations, “I . . . know that Crawford used his [iPhone] to discuss details related to the shooting of a rival gang member,” Knight wrote in his affidavit dated Feb. 1.

It turns out that the feds managed to intercept conversations that implicate the suspect and make them believe that more could be hiding on the iPhone.

And just like in the San Bernardino case, the FBI claims that it can’t unlock the iPhone, and it wants Apple to do it for them.

The San Bernardino case initiated an intense national debate over privacy, security, and encryption. And the Boston case underlines a key fear of both Apple and privacy advocates: that if Apple unites in the San Bernardino investigation, it will be compelled to do the same in thousands of more routine cases in which national security is not at stake, effectively creating for authorities a permanent “back door” into every iPhone in the United States.

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, wrote in an open letter to customers.

Crawford was arrested in November as part of a year long investigation by federal and local authorities into the Dawgs, dubbed “the largest, most violent and most feared organization in Boston” by US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.

While Apple has not yet provided a statement on the matter, but looks like the company may not comply with the FBI demand just like in the other case.