Why Is Apple Fighting Law Enforcement on Unlocking iPhones?

The question of privacy is a messy one. The majority of people can agree that it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible against criminals to reach a conviction. However, when it comes to the ability to unlock one’s phone and gain access to a person’s private data, the territory gets a little murky.

While Apple’s focus on privacy is nothing new, it’s constantly been fighting law enforcement agencies around the world who have been trying to pressure it to make backdoors that they can use to gain access to private data stored on those devices.

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In the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino attack where shooters killed 14 people and injured another 22, the FBI recovered the phone of one of the shooters. It later asked Apple for a way to break the encryption that locked the data into the phone. Apple vehemently opposed this and fought it every which way, eventually winning the case.

This led to division in the tech community. While many argued that Apple did the right thing and that its customers shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders just because one of them happened to be a shooter in an attack, others considered that it should cooperate with law enforcement to give them all the tools they need to apprehend criminals. The former argument won out because of a perceived slippery slope in which authorities could one day abuse this privilege and perform unlawful searches and seizures, disregarding the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution.

Since then, across the United States, police departments and the FBI have been using a cheap way to get around Apple’s lock. The solution is called GrayKey and comes in the form of a box that installs a brute-force cracker inside the phone once connected. Once the passcode is found, the phone’s screen will go black and display the results. This could take anywhere from hours to days, and some attempts do not succeed.

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Of course, Apple wasn’t just going to sit around with its thumb in its mouth when it found out about this. The company immediately struck back by announcing that it will change default settings in the iOS operating system to ensure that the GrayKey decryption device results in unsuccessful attempts to crack a phone.

But what drives Apple to fight this hard against law enforcement?

The answer is simple: Since the privacy of its devices is one of its selling points, Apple cannot afford to have its reputation tarnished. The company is doing everything in its power to ensure that it maintains this reputation. And users obviously benefit from this because they are relying on a manufacturer whose incentive it is to constantly up the ante on the security and privacy of its devices.

Whether you’re a fan of Apple or despise its phones, you can’t deny that this set of incentives plays well for more privacy-minded individuals.

A publicly-traded company like Apple who produces both the software and the hardware of its devices from scratch needs to make sure in every way possible that shareholders won’t bail on it. If something suddenly came up that renders iPhones useless against prying eyes, you can bet that the stock price of the company will take a dip.

What do you think could incentivize phone manufacturers using Android’s software to ensure better privacy for their users? Tell us what you think in a comment!

10 comments

  1. If we want to have a police state, then by all means require companies like Apple to put backdoors into their phones. But if we want to have any freedoms and rights, then we have to have ways to protect our privacy from possible rogue police and rogue governments.

    I applaud Apple for staying firm in the midst of what must have been very intense pressure.

  2. Android devices will never do what Apple has done to provide privacy for their customers. “Android” is a Google product; and one of the primary ways (perhaps THE primary way) that Google gets its money is by gathering as much information as it can from those who use its products, and then monetizing that information.

    Google has its tentacles literally everywhere on the internet. Don’t believe me? Browse the web with Firefox, and install a script blocker such as NoScript. Then whenever you go to any website, click the NoScript button to see what scripts are trying to run in the background. On 99.99 % of the websites you visit, you will find one or more Google scripts silently running in the background, gathering information about you.

  3. While, I do agree with Jim, regarding Apple’s decision to hold on to their operating system the way it is, no “back doors” and thereby securing a person’s privacy. In the long run, this is seems proper and Apple is standing by their claim, of privacy protection.

    Now, as to helping law enforcement gather important information about possible terrorists activity. . .I do not side with Apple. By protecting privacy, Apple is hindering important information that can possibly prevent future terrorists attacks! That is vital for the security of the country and every citizen that lives in that country. How else can we get possible important information for convicting someone and preventing future attacks, unless law enforcement can get access to hidden information?

    There you are a “duel-edge sword” and how to proceed without harming a person’s privacy. There may never be a good answer to this question and what constitutes the right of law enforcement’s involvement.

  4. I am bu no means a fan of apple (mainly because of the “great app wall”) but I applaud apple for defending the right of encryption so aggressively.

    Personally I think Apple should sue the company that made the hacking device because it is violating the law in multiple ways.
    1 that I know of is the law that is right applies to any encrypted software/hardware. The law im referring to makes it illegal to decrypt them.
    But I can’t remember what it’s called (i thing it’s the DMCA but I’m not sure.)

  5. While I will give a thumbs up to Apple for doing what they have? Having been someone who’s lost someone to this kind of terrorism, and knowing that had there been a way to discover the culprits early enough to actually prevent if from happening…..or at the very least, discover the names of all parties involved, I’m gonna have to say maybe there can be somekind of middle ground? Because more than privacy? I want my niece back enjoying her life which was snuffed out too early. And while that might sound selfish? How many loved ones have any of you lost? Things can look very definitive from one point-of-view……and then take on a completely different hue when viewed from another angle

    • I am sorry for your loss.

      Putting backdoors into phones to find terrorists is like breaking eggs until you find the rotten one. Should hundreds of millions of people be put under 24/7/365 surveillance just because a few terrorists MIGHT be caught? Do you want an A/V camera in EVERY room of your (and everybody else’s house) on the off-chance that they might catch a hint of terrorist plans? As far as 9//11 goes, the intelligence community had a lot of the pertinent information, even without backdoors in phones. Unfortunately, they did not analyze and correlate it properly until after the attack was over. What is needed is not necessarily more data but better analysis of the data already on hand.

      I did not lose a loved one to a terror act which could have been prevented by a ‘backdoor’ but my very existence was threatened. My grandfather was in the Resistance during WWII. Someone snitched (a backdoor of that time) on him to the Gestapo. My grandfather wound up doing 4 years in Buchenwald concentration camp. Obviously, he survived since I’m posting this.

  6. @MmeMoxie & Eddie G.
    Once backdoors are available to law enforcement, they will be available to every script kiddie on the planet. Privacy is an all or nothing concept. Either you have it or you don’t. Just like you cannot have a partial or selective pregnancy, you cannot have partial or selective privacy. Besides, what is to prevent terrorists and other miscreants from moving to other methods of communicating once the backdoors are implemented?

    • This is absolutely right and one of the more complex nuances that I neglected to touch upon. Thanks.

      Yes, if law enforcement gains access to something, it won’t be long before some members of the public start using it, too. It’s a simple rule of nature.

  7. Apple did the right thing.
    The so called ”Law Enforces” need and know other methods to find out what they need to know.
    They can’t be trusted with personal info, without them has to go and used it in a bad form way…

    Keep Calm Apple & Take No Shit….;)

  8. The people have a pretty substantial right to privacy, and Apple respects this, even if it means some criminals will ‘get away with it’. Although I do not like Apple’s approach to marketing and technology, I appaud them for ‘taking the high road’ on this issue!

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