Fight over San Bernadino shooter's locked iPhone could have big impact

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Battle between the FBI and Apple, Kaitlin McCulley reports. (KTRK)

A legal fight is underway with major privacy implications for millions of cellphone users. The fight between Apple Inc. and the FBI is expected to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fight comes after a federal judge ordered Apple Inc. to help the FBI hack into an iPhone used by Syed Farook in the San Bernardino mass shootings.

Former FBI agent and digital forensics expert Dennis Williams runs a Houston company called Pathway Forensics. He said pretty much anything can be pulled from an iPhone.

"We've had cases where we've recovered thousands of deleted text messages, recover voice messages," Williams said.

To do that, he needs the passcodes for the iPhone's.

"If you don't have the passcode, it's pretty much impossible to get access to the phone," Williams said.

Current iPhone's are encrypted. If someone enters wrong passcode 10 times in a row, the data is erased. The FBI wants Apple to develop new software, allowing them to guess the password as many times as they need to in order to break into the San Bernadino shooter's phone.

"Especially on the contacts, it could identify a possible terrorist cell in California that could be crucial in stopping a future attack," Williams said.

However, Williams also understands the concerns many iPhone users have, that developing the security work-around could compromise their privacy.

"I think it's a little too scary right now," Michael Svat said. "I think we're giving up too much of our privacy, and I think people don't realize how that could come back and hurt us later."

Williams said it is possible the backdoor technology could get into the wrong hands if it's created. If that were to happen, a passcode would not protect the phone.

Apple's chief executive officer, Tim Cook, says the Obama administration is seeking to force the software company to build a "backdoor" to bypass digital locks protecting consumer information on iPhone's. He said the software the FBI would need to unlock the gunman's work-issued iPhone 5C would be "too dangerous to create" and "undeniably" a backdoor.

Apple has provided default encryption on its iPhone's since 2014.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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