Oscar Pistorius: Cracking the incorrect Apple ID

2014-02-16 14:00

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"Your Apple ID or password is incorrect!”

These are the words detectives working on the Oscar Pistorius murder case have been staring at for nearly nine months. They don’t care what music the athlete listens to, or what TV series he watches.

They are looking for information stored on iCloud – every iMessage, email and any other communication between himself and the woman he shot dead, Reeva Steenkamp. Their search extends to everything ­Pistorius has deleted from his iPhone – in that digital footprint, they hope to find ­incriminating evidence.

Brian Webber, an attorney on Pistorius’ legal team, insists they gave investigators the right password to the Apple iTunes account.

He said: “It worked in June last year and it works now. We have cooperated fully with police.”

The first sentence of a letter Webber wrote to the prosecuting team contains a password, but the state says it’s the wrong one.

The National Prosecuting Authority won’t comment officially, but it’s understood the country’s top police IT experts have tried without success to access Pistorius’ iTunes account.

It’s a sensitive task. As any Apple iPhone user knows, too many incorrect attempts will eventually disable the phone for security reasons.

Apple experts say there are two reasons a password could be wrong: either the phone’s owner remotely changed the password or the owner opened a new account, in which case the new password would not correspond with the Apple ID on the phone.

Webber says they only supplied police with the password and not the ID as they thought detectives already had that on Pistorius’ iPhone.

Investigators will probe whether the password was changed or a new account was set up. But for now they are battling intercontinental red tape.

Police here need a US court to instruct Apple to crack the code to Pistorius’ iPhone. The International Cooperation in Criminal Matters Act has been used for this. Police have the relevant documents from courts at home and have, through the South African embassy in the US, asked the FBI for help.

One member of the prosecuting team says the process has become “a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare because US privacy laws are a lot tougher than those in South Africa”.

Their time is running out.

Pistorius’ trial begins on March 3 and, as the detectives rush to complete their technical investigation, some members of Steenkamp’s family are mentally preparing themselves for two weeks in the North Gauteng High Court.

June Steenkamp is happiest barefoot, frolicking with her dogs on the farmland where she lives with her husband Barry in Port Elizabeth.

On March 3, though, she will slip into formal shoes and take her seat for the start of the trial.

On Friday, a year after the fatal shooting, June was “crying like a baby”. Barry is shattered and will not join her in the courtroom.

“Barry is a broken man, he is such a softie and simply won’t be able to handle it,” said a family member from Cape Town, who did not want to be named.

The source told City Press that he will travel to Pretoria for the trial and that Pistorius “must watch it for I’ll rugby tackle him”. “I have no time for this celebrity rubbish, this arrogance. He is a bully, she was a defenseless woman, what was he thinking?” he said.

Other family members who will support June in the court room next month include Reeva’s cousin Kim Martin from Cape Town.

Martin is the only family member who met Pistorius in person. Reeva stayed at Martin’s house for five months while modeling in Cape Town in 2011, lazing around the house in flip-flops and a bun, family recalled.

A source said Reeva acted like “a mother” and liked to bake banana bread on Saturdays and to knit on Sundays. Describing Reeva’s parents, he said: “They’re not wordly people. She is happiest on their little smallholding barefoot amongst the horses and dogs.”

“June will go to Pretoria for the duration of the trial. She wants to face Oscar. She wants to go full circle and find closure,” he said.

The source said media reports that the Steenkamps were driving flashy new cars was untrue. He said Barry was borrowing an old grey Volvo from a friend and June had bought a battered Subaru for R15 000.

“They’re like deer in headlights and really confused by all the media hype and lies,” he said.

The couple released a statement through their lawyer, Advocate Dup de Bruyn, on Monday, saying:

“All we are looking for is closure and to know that our daughter did not suffer on that tragic Valentine’s Day.”

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