How one iPhone brought Apple and the FBI to court
By Mack Jastle
After the San Bernadino shooting, many were struck by the sudden violence and savagery of the attack, but grateful that the fighting was over.
However, in the months following the shooting, a new battle centered on it had entered the public eye. A battle over one particular iPhone 5C, and the information it may contain.
Since the shooting, the FBI has been in possession of the iPhone 5C owned by Syed Farook (one of the shooters in the San Bernadino shooting). Within the 24 hours after the shooting, the FBI had retrieved the phone. In the wake of the rampage, several personnel at the FBI were tasked with resetting the iCloud password to the device. They believed that by resetting the password, they would be able to access the data stored on the device.
This had the unintended side effect of locking the phone and making all other attempts to crack the encryption useless. The FBI had just locked itself out of a potential goldmine of information.
“There was a mistake made in the 24 hours after the attack,” James B. Comey Jr, director of the FBI, stated at a hearing on the matter.
With its tail between its legs (and presumably a few early retirements), the FBI approached Apple and asked them to engineer a software that could be uploaded to the iPhone to disable the encryption and security protocols. Apple refused the request, stating that it was doing so in order to protect the security interests of millions of users worldwide.
The legal battle that has raged since has brought government influence on our technology and user data security back to the forefront of the American consciousness.
“This is not a case about one isolated iPhone,” Mark Zwillinger, an attorney for Apple, wrote. “Rather, this case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe.”
The FBI asserts that it is not ordering Apple to create a backdoor into the security protocols, but merely create software to crack the phone.
A court last month ruled that Apple must comply with the FBI’s request, citing the All Writs Act and the US v. New York Telephone court case as past precedent for the ruling. The FBI asserts that since Apple already codes and writes software as part of its normal business practice, it would not be any significant trouble for them to create the software.
Apple fired back, stating that not only does it not know exactly how to create the software, but they are concerned about the precedent that would be set.
“If Apple can be forced to write code…what is to stop the government from demanding that Apple write code to turn on the microphone in aid of government surveillance, activate the video camera, surreptitiously record conversations, or turn on location services to track the phone’s user? Nothing,” as stated by Apple’s legal brief.
This precedent is a very dangerous one, which could allow the government to put tech companies to work on creating surveillance software and backdoors into security protocols. This would make mass surveillance even easier than it is now, as every person with an iPhone would be carrying a security camera with a built in microphone in their pocket.
This is a scary issue with even scarier implications down the road. I know I already reference 1984 far too much already, but the parallels are disturbing. So far the courts have ruled in Apple’s favor, but if the Supreme Court sees fit, they can overrule that and force Apple to comply.
But in the event that Apple IS forced to write the software, at least we have good old Windows phones to rely on.
(I mean, really, who would hack a Windows phone?)