Top DOJ official warns about Texas shooter's encrypted phone

Rod Rosenstein said police need to access the shooter's encrypted phone.

“Nobody has a legitimate privacy interest in that phone. The suspect is deceased,” Rosenstein said. “Even if he were alive, it would be legal for police and prosecutors to find out what is in the phone.”

“When you shoot dozens of innocent American citizens, we want law enforcement to investigate your communications and stored data,” Rosenstein said. “We expect police and prosecutors to investigate such horrendous crimes. There are things that we need to know.”

Apple, for its part, said in a statement that it “immediately reached out to the FBI after learning from their press conference on Tuesday that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone. We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us.”

Rosenstein appeared to scoff at such an offer today, noting, “...The company that built it claims that it purposely designed the operating system so that the company cannot open the phone even with an order from a federal judge.”

Pro-encryption New America’s Open Technology Institute argues that “giving government investigators special access to encrypted data is technically impossible to do without seriously undermining our cybersecurity against other threats, while also undermining the U.S. tech economy, and threatening human rights across the globe.”

“This is a real problem ... These are American companies, and they control this whole empire. And they have to be concerned about attacks on our country and the ability to open devices with sound justification.”

The California Democrat even sought to tie the current controversy to the fallout over Russia exploiting popular American social media platforms to meddle in the 2016 election, which caught the industry flat footed.

“I think things are changing as a result of the Russia investigation,” Feinstein said, adding that tech companies have a responsibility "to see that people not misuse the system for criminal purposes and, most importantly, to strike at what is the crown jewel of a democracy which is a free and fair election.”

“Either they’re going to be able to make some changes, or we are going to have to,” Feinstein warned.

But there is far from a consensus in Congress on this issue. Many members described being on the fence, if not outright opposed.

Still others said the encryption issue is beside the point, given that the Texas shooter, Devin Kelley, should never have been allowed to buy guns in the first place if it weren’t for the Air Force failing to report the veteran’s domestic violence conviction.

“The phone is kind of after the fact here,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, told ABC News, but saying on encryption, “It’s a double-edged sword, right? It cuts both ways. It’s hard to do that in a way ... that still protects people’s privacy and doesn’t actually make all of these devices even weaker when it comes to our foreign adversaries.”

But Rosenstein argued today in dire terms that could signal a tough battle ahead, saying, “Maybe we eventually will find a way to access the data. But it costs a great deal of time and money. In some cases, it surely costs lives. That is a very high price to pay. We need to find a solution."