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Watchdog: FBI Could Have Tried Harder to Hack iPhone

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The Apple iPhone 7 is displayed at an Apple store at the Grove in Los Angeles, California, Sept. 16, 2016. VOA
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FBI officials could have tried harder to unlock an iPhone as part of a terrorism investigation before launching an extraordinary court fight with Apple Inc. in an effort to force it to break open the device, the Justice Department’s watchdog said Tuesday.

The department’s inspector general said it found no evidence the FBI was able to access data on the phone belonging to one of the gunmen in a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, as then-FBI Director James Comey told Congress more than once. But communications failures among FBI officials delayed the search for a solution. The FBI unit tasked with breaking into mobile devices only sought outside help to unlock the phone the day before the Justice Department filed a court brief demanding Apple’s help, the inspector general found.

The finding could hurt future Justice Department efforts to force technology companies to help the government break into encrypted phones and computers.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at the 2018 Boston Conference on Cybersecurity at Boston College, in Boston, Massachusetts, March 7, 2018. VOA

The intense public debate surrounding the FBI’s legal fight with Apple largely faded after federal authorities announced they were able to access the phone in the San Bernardino attack without the help of the technology giant. But Trump administration officials have indicated a renewed interest in legislation that would address the problem, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly discussing their frequent frustration with encrypted devices. Congress could be less inclined to act on the problem — known as “going dark” — if there is an indication it may not be necessary.

Even after an outside vendor demonstrated it could successfully hack the phone, FBI officials disagreed over whether it should be used, in part because it would make the legal battle with Apple unnecessary. Some FBI officials thought they had found the precedent-setting case to convince Americans there should be no encryption that can’t be defeated or accessed with a warrant.

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FBI Executive Assistant Director for Science and Technology Amy Hess, testifies in Washington, April 19, 2016, before a House subcommittee hearing on deciphering the debate over encryption. VOA

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Amy Hess, who then oversaw the FBI’s science and technology division, told the inspector general’s office she was concerned that other officials did not seem to want to find a technical solution, or perhaps even knew of one, but remained silent in order to beat Apple in court.

The inspector general found no one withheld knowledge of an existing FBI capability, but failed to pursue all avenues in search for a solution. An FBI unit chief knew that an outside vendor had almost 90 percent completed a technique that would have allowed it to break into the phone, the report said, even as the Justice Department insisted that forcing Apple’s help was the only option.

Apple fought back, triggering a courtroom showdown that revived the debate over the balance of digital privacy rights and national security. Apple had argued that helping the FBI hack the iPhone would set a dangerous precedent, making all iPhone users vulnerable, and argued that Congress should take up the issue.

Apple declined to comment Tuesday. The FBI did not immediately return calls, but said in a letter to the inspector general that it agreed it with the findings and recommendations for improved communication. The report says the FBI is adding a new section to address the “going dark” problem and boost coordination among units that work on computers and mobile devices.

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Former FBI Director James Comey smiles during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 8, 2017. VOA

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Law enforcement officials have long warned that encryption and other data-protection measures are making it more difficult for investigators to track criminals and dangerous extremists. Wray said late last year that agents have been unable to retrieve data from half the mobile devices — nearly 7,000 phones, computers and tablets — that they tried to access in less than a year.

Yet Congress has shown little appetite for legislation that would force tech companies to give law enforcement easier access.

The issue also troubled Wray’s predecessor, Comey, who frequently spoke about the bureau’s inability to access digital devices. But the Obama White House never publicly supported legislation that would have forced technology companies to give the FBI a back door to encrypted information, leaving Comey’s hands tied to propose a specific legislative fix. VOA

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Avery Ranch Golf Club Is the Pride of Central Texas

With everything the Avery Ranch Golf Club has to offer, why choose anywhere else?

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Avery Ranch
The club has a fantastic view of Brushy Creek and other beautiful areas nearby.

The Avery Ranch Golf Club, in central Texas, is a renowned golf course that hosts yearly tournaments. The ranch is consistently one of the best rated sites in the state thanks primarily to the great course conditions, fabulous local attractions and accommodations. Many companies and fundraising organizations use the course because of the locale and hospitality. Avery Ranch’s local golf tournaments are an experience to remember.

The Avery Ranch Course was designed by Andy Raugust, former architect for Jack Nicklaus. At Avery Ranch, golfers can enjoy the rolling hills, panoramic view and a 50-acre lake, all on an 18-hole course. The course can be a bit of a challenge in the beginning, but it ends with a 477 yard 4-par on the 18th hole.

There are many benefits to using Avery Ranch Golf Club, with the group benefits being among the best reasons.

Avery Ranch
Call them today for additional details. A convenient online store is also available.
  • Enjoy reduced rates on green fees, range balls, cart fees and practice facilities.
  • Onsite food and beverage liaisons will help you and your guests with banquet room accommodations after play.
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The Pro Shop offers the highest quality equipment and apparel in the area. Find some of the best gear in the business by Nike, Titlest, Under Armour, Addidas, Foot Joy and much more.

The practice facilities are complete with a two-tiered Tee Box with manicured grass. The box measures 100 yards wide and 75 feet deep. Two separate putting greens, with over 20,000 square feet of area, are available for your short game. The area is maintained to duplicate course conditions.

 Avery Ranch
The Avery Ranch Course was designed by Andy Raugust, former architect for Jack Nicklaus.

The onsite Sunset Bar and Grill overlooking Avery Lake offers scrumptious burgers and fries, as well as appetizers, entrees and salads. Enjoy cold beer on tap and choose from a long list of other alcoholic beverages. The grill can also be rented out for corporate events, parties, weddings and other private activities.

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 Avery Ranch
The practice facilities are complete with a two-tiered Tee Box with manicured grass.

Make your dreams come true with a fairytale wedding at the Avery Ranch Golf Club. The club has a fantastic view of Brushy Creek and other beautiful areas nearby. Your wedding will take place at the 4,000 square foot Lakeview Event Center which holds 200 guests. The Lakeview Room is also equipped with a private, tree-covered deck that overlooks the Infinity Pool. The Sunset Club House, which holds 60 guests, is the perfect place to hold your reception.

With everything the Avery Ranch Golf Club has to offer, why choose anywhere else? Call them today for additional details. A convenient online store is also available.