The FBI and DOJ are playing good cop/bad cop with Apple and things are heating up in the Apple Vs. US Government battle. The DoJ has stepped in and threatened to seize the iOS source code unless Apple complies with the court order in the San Bernardino shooting case.
The started last month when Apple publicly refused the FBI court order in their February 16th letter, calling it a ‘dangerous precedent’?
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.
The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.
Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.
We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.
The DoJ’s response was classic bad cop – take the easy way the FBI provided or we’ll take everything, including the iOS source. Footnote 9 of the DoJ filling reads:
For the reasons discussed above, the FBI cannot itself modify the software on the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature.
The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers.
In case it wasn’t clear, Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt sums it up perfectly. “That’s a classic police threat: We can do this easy way or the hard way. Give us the little thing we’re asking for—a way to bypass your security software—or we’ll take whole thing: Your crown jewels and the royal seal too. With Apple’s source code, the FBI could, in theory, create its own version of iOS with the security features stripped out. Stamped with Apple’s electronic signature, the Bureau’s versions of iOS could pass for the real thing.”
What’s the danger in the FBI/DoJ having Apples Source Code and Digital Signature? The digital signature would allow anyone to impersonate Apple and publish iOS updates just like they were Apple.
President Obama added his opinion on the case at SXSW (South by Southwest) saying, “If it’s possible to make an impenetrable device where encryption is so strong that there is no key… then how do we apprehend the child pornographer… how do we disrupt a terrorist plot… how do we do simple things like tax enforcement?” Obama said. “If we can’t crack that and can’t get in… then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket… there needs to be a way to get in somehow.”
Obama makes the comparison between the court order Apple is refusing and a search warrant. If it’s commonly accepted for the government to come into your house and ‘rifle through your underwear to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing’ then having access is also acceptable to disrupt terrorist plots. But these things are completely different. Looking for evidence of a crime that’s already been committed is not the same as active monitoring to prevent or disrupt a crime from happening, and with the access the FBI and DoJ is demanding, that’s exactly what could happen. Anything you say or do on your phone could be used against you in the court of law.
Where will it end?
John Oliver, as usual, takes a closer look at the story and encryption in general.
“Lock that Rascal Up”
If a Florida Sheriff has anything to say about it, Tim Cook should be locked up. During a press conference about the arrest of three murder suspects, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called Tim Cook a “rascal” and said ‘The CEO of Apple needs to know he’s not above the law, and neither is anybody else in the United States.”
He goes on to say that if he ever had a case that involved trouble getting into a iPhone, he’d seek a court order on Apple. If they didn’t comply, well, the Sheriff promises to ‘lock that rascal up.”
What is your opinion in Apple vs. US Government?