If Tim Cook’s strongly-worded response to the court order instructing it to assist the FBI in breaking into an iPhone left any room for doubt about Apple’s determination to fight the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, that doubt appears to be removed by further background emerging today.
The NY Times reports that Apple plans to press ahead with plans to increase its use of strong encryption.
Mr. Cook has told colleagues that he still stands by the company’s longstanding plans to encrypt everything stored on Apple’s myriad devices, services and in the cloud, where the bulk of data is still stored unencrypted.
“If you place any value on civil liberties, you don’t do what law enforcement is asking,” Mr. Cook has said.
The piece also reveals that Apple had asked the FBI to make its court application under seal – meaning that the legal arguments could be heard in private – but the FBI chose instead to make it a public fight …
This adds to suspicions that the FBI has deliberately chosen a high profile test-case likely to generate public sympathy for its position.
Curiously, the NY Times removed from an earlier piece three paragraphs quoted by Edward Snowden. One of the authors of the piece, Katie Benner, tweeted that “we did a full rewrite of the story so much of the original is gone,” adding that this sort of thing “happens all the time” before declining to comment further.
Steve Wozniak has also weighed-in on the side of the company he co-founded, telling CNBC that Apple’s reputation is built on the trust of its customers.
I believe that Apple’s brand recognition and value and profits is largely based on an item called trust. Trust means you believe somebody. You believe you’re buying a phone with encryption.
You can’t trust who is in power. It’s like believing the authority and police wherever they go. Generally, when they write the rules, they’re right when they’re wrong.
Woz also said he believed Steve Jobs would have made the same decision as Tim Cook to fight the court order, and that “the word ‘terrorism’ has been used way too often to scare people.”
The WSJ notes that privacy advocates are planning to hold rallies at Apple Stores across the U.S. in support of the company.
In the FBI’s corner is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who had previously claimed that Apple’s use of strong encryption meant that iPhones would be “the terrorists’ communication device of choice.” Vance said that the case was “the most visible example of how Silicon Valley’s decisions are thwarting criminal investigations and impeding public safety,” and that his office is planning to bring cases of its own before a NY court.
A TechCrunch piece pointed out some misreporting of the issue, with some claiming that Apple had previously unlocked as many as 70 iPhones for law enforcement agencies. As Matthew Panzarino notes, Apple had previously (on receipt of court orders) extracted data from unencrypted phones running iOS 7 or earlier.
Apple also assisted the FBI in the San Bernardino case, cooperating with earlier court orders requiring it to hand over unencrypted data from iCloud backups of the phone in question. (Those backups are incomplete, which is why the FBI wants access to the phone itself.) This is important context, demonstrating that Apple is fighting a specific point of principle here rather than trying to be generally obstructive to law enforcement.
Of course, the whole legal battle could be avoided if the FBI took up the kind offer (via Business Insider) of noted eccentric John McAfee, currently running for President for the Libertarian Party.
So here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.
If you doubt my credentials, Google “cybersecurity legend” and see whose name is the only name that appears in the first 10 results out of more than a quarter of a million.
McAfee gave no clue as to how he would use “social engineering” to persuade a dead terrorist to reveal his password.
Apple was yesterday given more time to prepare its response to the court order, with the deadline now falling on 26 February. Check out all our earlier reporting of the issue below:
- U.S. judge orders Apple to help FBI access data on San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone 5c
- Apple publishes letter responding to FBI iPhone unlock demand: ‘an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers’
- Google CEO Pichai appears to side with Apple in series of vague tweets on FBI encryption battle
- Security firm shows how Apple could bypass iPhone security to comply with FBI request
- Opinion: How likely is Apple to succeed in resisting the FBI court order?
- Should Apple comply with FBI request to bypass San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone? [Poll]
- Civil rights groups and tech companies express support for Apple’s stand against the FBI
- Opinion: Why an iPhone master key is better than a backdoor, but still too dangerous
- Petition urges White House to support Apple in blocking government access to locked iPhones
- Senate Intelligence Committee considering bill to penalize companies refusing to decrypt user devices
- Report: Apple to get more time to formally respond to government’s request for access to locked iPhone
Photo: Solitary Watch