After FBI-Apple Clash, A Mom Asks: Who Will Unlock Murdered Daughter's iPhone? : All Tech Considered The FBI says it's unlocked the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. A district attorney in Baton Rouge, La., is hopeful the FBI will share its master key for an iPhone in a murder case.
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Mom Asks: Who Will Unlock Murdered Daughter's iPhone?

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Mom Asks: Who Will Unlock Murdered Daughter's iPhone?

Mom Asks: Who Will Unlock Murdered Daughter's iPhone?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The FBI says it's gotten into that iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. So prosecutors have dropped their case against Apple. But now local prosecutors around the country have iPhones they would like to unlock. And the question is, will the FBI use its master key to help? NPR's Aarti Shahani looks at one case in particular, an unsolved murder in Baton Rouge, La.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Barbara Mills saw her daughter that night.

BARBARA MILLS: Yeah, she left here about 8:38.

SHAHANI: Brittney was pregnant, almost full term. Every once in a while, she and her 9-year-old daughter would crash with grandma, get some TLC. But that particular evening...

MILLS: It just so happens that particular evening, she said she wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed so she could be comfortable.

SHAHANI: She told Brittney, call if anything, by which she meant if Brittney had contractions. Sure enough, Mills did get a call around midnight. It was some kind of emergency worker who told her to come over.

MILLS: I went to her apartment. I had no idea what had happened. As a matter of fact, I thought her water had broke. And we were going to deliver a baby.

SHAHANI: That's not what happened. Mills arrived and saw police tape cordoning off the entryway. Brittney's home was a crime scene. She's been shot, an officer told Mills; go to the hospital. When Mills arrived, her daughter was still alive in an operating room. Doctors took her in for a C-section.

MILLS: From what I understand, they resuscitated her. And she was alive long enough for them to do the C-section. Yeah, that's what the doctors told me.

SHAHANI: Brittney Mills gave birth to a baby boy. And then she died. She was 29. The baby came out quite big, 8 pounds, 8 ounces. And Barbara Mills says she was grateful to God for his life.

MILLS: It took us about three days to come up with a name. And I felt like we should name him, well, after mommy 'cause we really were in high hopes that he would survive.

SHAHANI: Brenton, named after Brittney, couldn't breathe on his own. After a few days on a ventilator, he died. Mills, who was expecting a grandchild, got a double homicide. Today, nearly a year later, her dining room remains a memorial of shorts. She shows me Brittney's photographs and funeral programs. And I notice in the corner...

There's a cradle there.

MILLS: Oh, that was his. That was Brent's.

SHAHANI: The question of who shot Brittney Mills is wide open. And the answer could be locked up in an iPhone, her iPhone. Unlike the San Bernardino shooter, she's the victim, not the perpetrator. But like that case, investigators are not able to enter into the phone. It's running on the iOS 8 operating system.

MILLS: Mr. what's his name with the Apple corporation, he...

SHAHANI: Barbara Mills saw Apple CEO Tim Cook on TV the other day talking about the rights of consumers. To privacy activists, he's a hero. To her...

MILLS: I mean, you still trying to protect consumers. But what about the victims who use your product? You know what I'm saying? They were faithful too. They paid their bills.

SHAHANI: According to family members, Brittney Mills kept a diary on her phone in some app, which could be very useful to investigators. They haven't been able to name a single suspect yet. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.

HILLAR MOORE: The daughter heard someone knock on the door and heard her mom speak to somebody who she's not able to identify. After the shots rang out is when the daughter ran for safety.

SHAHANI: Moore says the little girl ran into the bathroom and locked the door. He's sitting in his office explaining just how thin the murder scene was. Mills lived on the ground floor of a small apartment complex. It's in a nice part of town. I visited. And none of the apartments - not number three, where she lived, nor one, nor two for that matter - none had any sign of a forced entry.

MOORE: I mean, that's what the critical thing is. She opens the door.

SHAHANI: And it looks like the shooter didn't enter the apartment - didn't rummage inside.

MOORE: No gun left. No gun found. We really are desperate to try to get into the phone just to see if there is anything else there.

SHAHANI: Investigators were able to get AT&T, the mobile carrier, to provide a call log, every number that called or texted Brittney or that she contacted but not what was said inside a text. Apple turned over data stored on iCloud, like 15,000 pages worth of data. But the account stopped backing up months before the murder - could be for any number of reasons. So the data was outdated. Earlier this month, DA Moore met with three Apple employees to explore how they could help.

MOORE: I have not heard back since. So I assume that they're still trying to work on Ms. Mills' phone or some type of replica, whatever they made.

SHAHANI: Apple spokesman Fred Sainz says Apple has provided all the information they have, and the ball is in the DA's court. He hasn't provided the follow-up information they requested. And Apple will not go so far as to try to break the encryption on Brittney's phone. It might not be necessary. When news broke last week that a mysterious outside party offered to help with the San Bernardino iPhone, DA Moore got in touch with an FBI agent on that case.

MOORE: Both of our understanding is if they're able to get into that phone, that they can probably get into Ms. Mills phone, which hopefully will benefit us one way or the other.

SHAHANI: In an email a law enforcement official tells NPR it's premature to say, but they are committed to helping state and local partners gain lawful access. Meanwhile, DA Moore says he's been texting with the FBI all this week. He's awaiting final confirmation and details, like if the hack does work, what fee will his office have to pay the feds or the outside party? Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Baton Rouge.

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