Father begs Apple CEO to help unlock his dead 13-year-old son’s iPhone

“An Italian father has reportedly written to Apple CEO Tim Cook, pleading for help to unlock his dead 13-year-old son’s iPhone 6 so that he can retrieve the photos stored on it.,” Cyrus Farivar reports for Ars Technica. “‘I cannot give up. Having lost my [son] Dama, I will fight to have the last two months of photos, thoughts and words which are held hostage in his phone,’ Leonardo Fabbretti wrote in the March 21 letter, which was quoted Wednesday by Agence France Presse.”

“Since iOS 8, Apple has said that it has engineered its phones such that the company cannot access data held on a phone without the passcode,” Farivar reports. “According to the AFP, Fabbretti’s son Dama was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2013, and he passed away in September 2015.”

Farivar reports, “Fabbretti said that he has contacted Apple tech support, which told him they were sorry for his plight but lamented that there was nothing they could do.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We are sorry for Fabbretti’s loss, but, obviously, the photos and anything else considered of value should have been backed up.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Lynn Weiler” for the heads up.]

38 Comments

  1. If the son had wanted his father to access what was on his iPhone, there was plenty of time to have shared the access key; it was not an abrupt accident that claimed the son’s life. I say we honor the wishes of the deceased. The right to privacy does not end at death.

    1. If your saying a 13 year old has a right to iPhone privacy from parent, I strongly disagree-although would generally agree with your last two points.

        1. If you’re saying that a father doesn’t have a responsibility to know his 13 year old’s password for device, that they would have no other way of obtaining, then I disagree with you. Parents need to take responsibility and if the password isn’t shared, they lose the device. It’s really quite simple. This is unfair to Apple and the issues really at hand.

          1. Parents, children, heck even clones need a safe enclave, this used to be the thoughts, the imaginings that we kept to ourselves (secret invisible friends, etc….)
            Now we throw our secret world into our phones and the like and expect them to be as secure as our thoughts
            Thank you apple for recognizing our desire to have a place we can call our own. Safe from prying eyes

            my guess would be that there are things on this phone that would break the fathers heart. Let him imagine the best and the worst and find peace without knowing everything

            It is better to not know, than to believe something that may be wrong.

    2. Apparently the father was given access to that iPhone via his stored fingerprint, but the iPhone had been kept switched off and therefore could no longer be unlocked without the passcode.

      While many of us might sympathise with him, there were better ways of making his photos available to his father, but those solutions were not adopted.

        1. No, silly, one of the (5?) available fingerprint storage slots was for the father. But as we should all know by now, fingerprints are not *the* authoritative access method for iOS, which is still the passcode.

    3. Actually, if Apple can crack this iPhone Apple demonstrates the ease of cracking iPhone. To protect Apple’s rep Apple is willing not to allow the grieving father access to the photos. Apple is more interested in preserving the myth of iOS supremacy at the expense of a father who lost his son. Kudos to you Apple. Let the father weep to preserve the public’s perception of iOS invulnerability. He’s just a sad man seeking closure, you have a company image to maintain.

      1. and you have to maintain your image as an ignorant fsckwad who does not understand privacy, yours or others, until you are violated

        the kid may have wanted to die in peace, without his father knowing how he coped with the disease, or how much he suffered, maybe he was trying to protect his father? you are not very high minded, and i mean that literally, go back to the gutter like the FBI

  2. Cases like this can be very emotionally charged and there’s no easy answer.

    I have suggested to Apple that there should be a setting with IOS or iCloud where a user can nominate a Next of Kin, who would be entitled to receive iCloud backups from the device belonging to the deceased.

    The user would be able to select from a check list what information should be shared ( such as photos and contacts, but maybe not e-mails ) and the Next of Kin would have to provide Apple with a Death Certificate and proof that they are the nominated person, and probably pay a fee for the service to dissuade trivial requests.

    This would go a long way towards resolving the most heart wrenching issues of this type.

    1. I thought that, if there were iCloud backups, Apple could access the backups. In this case, the father wants access to the photos on the phone itself, which Apple cannot do. Am I correct in my understanding?

      1. Not at all. Apple can currently access iCould backups. Otherwise they couldn’t restore data to a new device if an iPhone is lost or damaged.

        In the case of law enforcement agencies, Apple offers that data if provided with a warrant, but in the cease of Farook’s iPhone, the FBI wanted the data actually on that iPhone, even though every indication was that he didn’t use that phone much.

        The Next of Kin option would just be a modification to a type of access that already exists and it doesn’t involve a special back door. If users choose not to back-up to iCloud, there will be no data available.

    2. Your suggestion creates to much paper, files, desks, telephones and positions. Apple is not and insurance company. and it’s not your lawyer for the price of a phone. As an iPhone owner, do you really want your family to get hold of all your secrets inside your device? Redact a paper with your passcode and instructions, keep it safe in your clothes drawer or give it to your lawyer for him to pass to your family once you’re gone. Save all that effort and give them your passcode right now.

      1. As unlikely as it may be, given enough ‘voice’ Apple’s extreme level of ‘hands off” security in cases like this may push users to go to other platforms that give them a better balance of security and special case access.

        1. If you could explain what that “better balance” is then, perhaps, you might have a point. But I doubt that there is one. Your data s either (relatively) safe on an iPhone behind two-factor authentication and encryption, or it is not safe at all. Take your choice.

          1. Just as you choose the types of door/knob/lock to secure your front door with varying levels of security, I think there is a market for varying levels of securing your devices ranging from completely secure, no-access for anyone except owner to a simple slide to unlock.

        2. Judging from the responses, most of us like and prefer Apple’s stance on privacy. Apple is leaving your life in your hands, as it should be. The responsibility is yours, as it should be. The people who are having problems failed to follow the rules/processes for dealing with iOS devices and iCloud and/or for backing up data.

  3. A little further investigation of this case reveals that Cellebrite has offered to open the phone for the father………..Nice try on the Apple is evil thing though………….

    Don’t believe me, what do I know……………here is the direct quote and a link to a COMPLETE article with the additional FACTS!!

    Fabbretti says Cellebrite, the mobile forensics firm that worked with the FBI to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, had offered to try to unlock Dama’s phone for free.
    http://www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=151126

  4. The argument is even more interesting when it involves minor children. Parents do have the right to search their children’s bedrooms. Would the father not also technically own the phone that he pays for? Certainly would be more of a grey area with a 17 yr old.

    1. The answer to your question is no. Apple provides every option needed for parents to search their children’s iPhones. If parents are lazy, foolish, ignorant or they simply believe that decease can’t happen to them and they don’t setup the iPhone while their teens are alive, it’s not Apple’s fault. Apple sells devices and services, that doesn’t include taking care of your life.

  5. First, it is a rule in my house to know the pass code of my childrens’ phones. I am the soul arbiter of how its is used and what goes on it. I make sure they are backed up on a regular basis. Sure my kids do silly things and have some privacy. But push come to shove, I can get to everything if I must. The kids know this. I am speaking as a parent, in a wild world.

    1. So what is preventing your children from changing the passcode ‘back’ to what you set it to whenever they give you access and then changing it to something only they know at all other times?

      1. True I don’t prevent that. But I suppose I could install a certificate of my own, through configurator. However we have an agreement, I can get in and they can have an iPhone. Seems like a reasonable trade off, on top of good grades and doing chores around the house.

  6. And this is a case in point: Make sure your significant other is privy to your passwords for bank, bills, etc. So in case you get hit by a bus, you will have done the right thing and protect your family.

    1. You also need to let somebody else know too in case you are both killed together.

      My son knows how to access Address Book, so that if my wife and I died in a car crash, he could tell everybody on our Christmas Card list.

      I wish that it were easily possible ( maybe dual passwords on one account ) to allow easy access to some things ( photos & contacts ), while retaining privacy for e-mails, documents and iMessages. There are ways to do it, but it’s rather cumbersome.

      1. there is a safe and secure way to do this with 1-Password. My wife and I have shared important passwords, and my parents also use the program and we have (securely) shared our master passwords in the event that we have to access their computer and all passwords.

  7. As I understand it, the Restrictions passcode is different from the normal passcode for the phone. Does anyone know if the Restrictions passcode will give you access to the phone like the normal passcode does? (It should.)

  8. As tragic as it it it is the way it is.

    “Although I share your philosophy in general, I think Apple should offer solutions for exceptional cases like mine,” A person dying is not an exceptional case. It’s something for everyone to think and consider about the data on their iPhone and elsewhere.

    I’d suggest contacting those who do are willing to hack into the iPhone.

    Always a hypothetical: “I understand privacy, but I wonder what if inside a disabled iPhone was the password to block the explosion of an atomic bomb planted by terrorists in Rome, then what do we do? Do we let it explode?””

    Yes, that’s the price of privacy. It’s the same price you pay for this hypothetical situation: inside an iPhone is the code required to detonate the explosion of an atomic bomb. What do you do, make it explode?

    It just make memories all that more precious.

    I grieve for the lost.

  9. I do think Apple has an opportunity here. Just as iPhones issued by an employer can be set up so the employer can administer the phone (you listening San Bernardino?), so, too, could iOS provide a mechanism where the person paying for the phone could be set up to administer the phone. Thus jealous husbands could keep tabs on their wives (and girlfriends) but (more seriously) parents could monitor their children’s phone use. If the child objected, well, that the basis for a conversation and the child’s phone could always be configured just like every other phone.

  10. This is all starting to backfire big time on Apple! If it hasn’t already started, companies like Cellebrite are going to start offering iPhone unlocking services to the general public. Given the fact that the San Bernardino iPhone was a national security issue, the FBI and Apple should cooperated secretly with the FBI handing over the locked iPhone and Apple returning it unlocked.

  11. You don’t understand yet the transcendence of FBI request, it wasn’t about just that one single phone. On the other hand, manufacturers of locks, vaults and safes have no obligation to open their customers boxes just because they were goofy enough to forget the key or because their grandpa didn’t gave them the combination before he past away. The fact that Apple could, if ever, unlock iPhones doesn’t grant anybody any right to demand for that service. Use dynamite to open your box, if you want. It’s your box.

  12. Interesting and timely… when it comes to minors, I think they should only be attached to their parents’ accounts. Then the parents would ultimately control everything on the phone — they’re adults, they pay the bills, and they are simply granting the kids access to a phone on their account.

    There are password-protected apps for photos/videos/messaging that the kids should be able to use, if privacy is important, which the parents would not have access to — but for the general iPhone access, I think the parents should call the shots.

    If that were the case this would not have been an issue.

  13. Yuck!
    It’s absolutely cowardly to Apple to not have a solution for families. This is ridiculous. I can have $1 million in a bank and my next of kin with relevant documentation can have access to it when I die. Why not my phone?
    cmon! #TooSecureForLfe

    1. In the case of an iPhone, the relevant documentation is the passcode. There’s plenty of options in iOS for parents to properly set their teens iPhones for them parents to access the device whenever they want. But parents are lazy or they simply don’t care until it cares. It’s not Apple’s obligation to fix your mistakes.

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