Apple Tells the FBI to go Pound Bits

The FBI’s request for Apple to crack the San Bernardino terrorist iPhone 5c isn’t as cut and dry as it might appear…

apple and the fbi

This story has been making headlines for quite some time now, and I honestly think that it will continue to make headlines for some time to come. In fact, I can see this subject staying in the news for at least the next couple of months…

This is perhaps one of the most controversial issues I’ve seen out of the tech sector in a very long time. I’m also not entirely certain that there has EVER been such a controversial or politically charged issue on the minds of nearly every personal computer user – like, EVER.

At the heart of the issue is the iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook.  Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured another 22 during a training class and party in December 2015.  The FBI has tried to access the iPhone 5c, but have not been able to get past its passcode, which resets after 10 failed attempts, rendering the device inaccessible.

During the week of 2016-02-14 to 2016-02-20, a federal judge ordered that Apple must assist the FBI in getting past the passcode screen.  Apple, has since refused to comply with this order, stating that they intend to fight the order, which they see as a violation of the right to privacy and of civil liberties.

At issue, is not this one single iPhone, owned by the (uninvolved and unknowing) business that Farook worked for.  According to Apple, the only way to gain access to an iPhone locked with a passcode is to crack the encryption and build a back door into the OS.  According to the FBI, Apple doesn’t have to create that back door. They can simply modify this one, particular iPhone 5c and give the FBI the access they need.

First of all, I think it’s interesting that the FBI can make this determination. If they’re smart enough to figure THAT out, then why can’t they crack the Farook’s iPhone themselves?

The logical answer here is they don’t.

They’re making an assumption, and I don’t believe they know what they’re talking about. If they had the technical hutzpah to make that statement, then they wouldn’t need Apple.

Now, according to an interview with Tim Cook that aired on ABC World News Tonight, there are some very serious problems with this request. Actually, Tim Cook called the issue “complex.”

According to Cook,

“If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write — maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for the law enforcement to turn on the camera,” Cook said. “I don’t know where this stops. But I do know that this is not what should be happening in this country.”

In a message from Cook to Apple customers during the week of 2016-02-14 to 2016-02-20, Cook said that they had provided assistance to the FBI, but wouldn’t create a backdoor that would have the potential to crack any iPhone.  This decision was applauded by both Google CEO Sundar Pichai and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, among other Silicon Valley big wigs.  Currently, there are approximately two dozen iPhones held by law enforcement agencies around the country where those agencies are interested in the outcome of this case.

If the FBI prevails, precedent is created for Apple to provide them with the same kind or type of tool or service for unlocking those two dozen or so iPhones as well as any other encrypted iOS devices in the future.

This is the biggest concern of all, as then this leaves Apple open to similar requests from nearly every legal agency in this country as well as other’s around the world, to provide them with the same kind of access.  So, every political dissident or activist that is detained by a dissenting, international governing body that owns an iPhone or other iDevice, will demand that Apple provide them (that governing body) with the same services.

The story here only gets more and more interesting…

Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, was recently quoted as coming out AGAINST Apple’s plight against the FBI.  When asked for clarification, Gates replied,

I was disappointed, because that doesn’t state my view on this. I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable. But striking that balance — clearly the government [has] taken information, historically, and used it in ways that we didn’t expect, going all the way back, say, to the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. So I’m hoping now we can have the discussion. I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind… The courts are going to decide this…  In the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get [in] the discussion. And these issues will be decided in Congress.”

However, in a statement released on 2016-02-26, Microsoft itself has come out in support of Apple, and not the FBI, like its co-founder, Bill Gates.  Microsoft’s support comes in the form of an amicus brief that it will file with the court next week.  Microsoft’s support is joined to that of Google’s and Facebooks, but really, according to Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith from testimony taken from a congressional hearing, the government, not the courts needs to discuss the [implementation of]new legislation to govern privacy.

The focus of Microsoft’s statements can be nicely summed up with a statement from an industry group, “while it’s ‘extremely important’ to deter crime and terrorism, no company should be required to build back doors to their own technology.”

Personally, I #StandwithApple.  While I support the US government’s stand against terrorism and generally consider myself to be a conservative, the government doesn’t need a back door into my smartphone.  Giving the government too much power and access into my privacy and personal life is NOT what I want.

I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion on this.  If you agree or disagree, support Apple or support the FBI, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Please share them with us in the comment section below and lend your voice to the discussion.

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  • Matt Albrecht

    The problem here is the COURT ORDER. They are wanting to crack that ONE phone, not all phones, and the court order was very specific to that. They also don’t want a backdoor, they want the “10 attempts” feature disabled so the phone does not go into ‘brick’ mode! But I wouldn’t expect the ‘whole story’ to be reported.

    Though yes, this opens the door to ‘every law enforcement team’ to make a similar request, keep in mind under present law, they will need to go to court, provide evidence as to why the information is needed, and get a court order to obtain it. That is where the lines need to be drawn and have a well-defined list of what constitutes a ‘valid’ reason to grant the court order. But once a court order is issued, it MUST be followed in order to maintain a good rule of law. What if all court orders are just ignored citing “privacy”? Criminals can then get away with essentially anything and hide any criminal activity by putting it in their phones and claiming their ‘right to privacy’.

    The FBI is looking for other terrorists that want to KILL us. Let that sink in for a moment. Does your ‘stand with apple’ position go as far as ISIS bending you over and cutting off your head? All for their ‘right to privacy’? Better think of that.

    Frankly I hope apple’s CEO is held in contempt and jailed.

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