SAN FRANCISCO — As investigators look into the motivations and connections of Orlando gunman Omar Mateen, the case raises the specter of another legal battle between a tech giant and the U.S. government over access to a cell phone.
It was just three months ago that the 43-day legal fight between the FBI and Apple over demands Apple help authorities hack into an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan ended.
As law enforcement begins the task of investigating the life of the man behind the nation’s largest mass shooting at an Orlando gay dance club early Sunday morning, his digital footprint will be front and center.
This will be of special interest as Mateen is believed to have been at least partially radicalized through viewing extremist websites, FBI Director James Comey said Monday. He was, however, clear that the gunman did not appear to have been directed by the Islamic State or been a part of a larger conspiracy.
Very little is known so far about Mateen’s tech setup, but from selfies he posted on social media, it appears that Mateen used an Android smartphone at one point.
If that’s the case, law enforcement will face different issues accessing information on the phone than they did in the case of the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooters in December.
The FBI acknowledged Monday that it has Mateen’s cell phone and electronics, but had no comment on what type of phone he used or whether encryption had surfaced as problem in accessing any information that might have been on it.
Google, maker of the Android smartphone operating system, also declined to comment.
It’s known that Mateen was using a phone during the course of the attack. At some point between 2 and 5 a.m. Eastern he called 911 and pledged his support to the Islamic State, or ISIS, according to the FBI.
During phone negotiations with police before they stormed the dance club where 49 victims died and 53 were injured, Mateen sounded “cool and calm,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Monday.