Everything You Need to Know About Apple vs. the FBI

In December 2015, a man – named Syed Farook – and his wife killed fourteen people and injured twenty-one others at a party of his co-workers. Incidents like these normally don’t carry any significance in tech circles, save for the fact that the iPhone he was in possession of before he was gunned down by police is the subject of a controversy between Apple and the FBI. The controversy itself has made headlines due to the implications it would have on data privacy, and it’s sparked a very fiery debate after Apple has fought the FBI, refusing to provide a way for the bureau to gain access to the man’s phone.

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On 16 February 2016, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, wrote an open letter to customers, stating that:

opposing [the order by the FBI] 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.

Apple has made a clear stance against cooperating with authorities which struck the match that ignited the entire debate over whether U.S.-born criminals and terrorists have the same digital protection rights as any other citizens.

iOS has a built-in protection feature that will automatically wipe a phone’s data after ten failed attempts to type in its PIN. Since Syed Farook’s phone is protected by a PIN number, the FBI risks losing the phone’s data – the very thing they need for their investigation – unless they somehow manage to break in through a back door that will circumvent the security that’s in place. Apple’s unwillingness to cooperate puts them at a standstill in this respect.

Needless to say, the move by Apple has been given support by other tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

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On one hand, Apple’s stance represents staunch support for the security and privacy of everyday users of its products. It’s normal for a company not to want to intentionally weaken the security of its products, both because it loses its status among its users and because it prides itself with the security it provides. Weakening a product is a strike against the collective ego of the producer.

On the other hand, authorities and public figures have spoken out against Apple, citing that such protection shouldn’t be afforded to terrorists. Others were conflicted by the issue due to its complexity, saying that forcing companies to weaken their security establishes a dangerous precedent and allows hackers to gain an advantage over their victims once they find out how to use back doors to their advantage. The publicity behind this case makes it inevitable that if an order is given for Apple to include such back doors, it won’t be long before someone other than authorities start using it.

The moment a tech company chooses to acknowledge the right of government to demand that its manufactured devices include a back door allowing them to circumvent their security, we will have reached a point in history where data protection as a whole is no longer trustworthy. Are we sure we want to reach this pivotal moment? Would the word “encryption” mean anything anymore? Tell us your thoughts about this in a comment below!

17 comments

  1. I understand that Apple are between a rock and a hard place but if they do give in and just this once give the Government what they want, what next we must ask, what if something similar was to take place not just in the USA but other parts of the World, then Government’s could use this against apple by saying you have done this for your Government now we want you to do it for us, so yes I must agree with the stance that apple are taking, it is for the good of everyone I think, people will feel secure knowing that they cannot have their phones taken off them for god knows what reason some official has come up with, I was in the Police for 30 years and there were times when there was an urgent need to get hold of information so where do we say yes all Government’s do have a right to access my phone the same way the do to access my computer. there must be a fine line and I think that Apple have drawn that line and are not willing to cross it no matter the reason. someone must be brave enough to say NO to Government, after all we the people should be allowed some privacy over their personal information. I know that some will say that the living need to be protected against these Terrorists, how many more times will Government’s put these companies in the position that Apple are now in?

    • Here is the problem. I have worked in encryption, and cyber security, from a Law enforcement perspective. The FBI , nor the government has the right or power to demand such from a manufacturer. Their rights to search and seizure have been abused in the past on shoddy evidence for probable cause too many times. The FBI is trying to save face here, as it has come to everyones attention that they failed to do their jobs in other capacity in this matter (the shooting). The most embarrassing thing for the FBI to be called out on is incompetence (which they are guilty of more than anyone would feel comfortable with) and not doing their jobs. They are nothing more than glorified cops, and when they fail, they have to do everything they can to save face. That is what this instance shows. The Justice department screams that encryption is the problem, when the real problem is that they are nothing more than very powerful keystone cops.

      • Not to play the devil’s advocate but what could have the FBI done to prevent the massacre? Hindsight is always 20/20. For FBI to prevent such an event they would have to have every one of the 320 millions of US inhabitants under close surveillance. They do not have the manpower, they do not have the budget AND they do not have the legal right.

    • I’m not sure how this changes the conversation, but remember that the phone is the property of the San Bernardino County government, not the individual. As such, depending on the usage agreement under which the phone was provided, the individual may have no expectation of privacy. It’s really the county government that has the right to determine whether the phone should be accessed, though that doesn’t change the question of whether a corporation should be compelled to help get the information off the phone.

  2. Several years ago, Blackberry was declared the most secure phone by NSA. Wall St, Apple, Samsung and other tech companies went on a run against Blackberry stock, rather than spend money to improve their own phones security to compete, basically destroying Blackberries image and ability to compete.
    Now that Apples security has improved they are crying unfair when someone comes after them. These big multi-nationals are used to doing whatever they want and getting away with it.That is why they are pushing the TPP, so they can continue to do whatever they want ever they want and local national laws and regulations will not apply to them ” if it impedes their pursuit of profits”- nice deal if you can pull it off

    • ” Wall St, Apple, Samsung and other tech companies went on a run against Blackberry stock”
      Please! Nobody ‘went on a run against Blackberry stock’. Blackberry did not keep up with Apple and Samsung in innovating and their phones became outdated and outmoded. Sales fell and the stock price followed. There was no collusion or conspiracy to “get” Blackberry. The company did it to themselves.

  3. The USA was founded under a set of laws derived from the Constitution. This document and its amendments provide clear protections for our civil liberties. Since 9-11 and our knee jerk reaction of the “Patriot” Act which is a complete afront to those liberties and the after math of the NSA and other alphabet soup organizations over reach of our Snowden information. I stand with Apple, Google,etc in saying NO to the cleverly public effort by the FBI to weaken again our little bastion of privacy left. Sorry FBI you loss.

  4. The action by FBI is nothing more than a fishing expedition. FBI is assuming that the phone contains incriminating data. It probably is a safe assumption but it is only an assumption nevertheless. Let’s not be naive, if FBI prevails in forcing Apple to crack the phone, anybody whose number is .listed on that phone will be not only be placed under surveillance but also vigorously interrogated. FBI will make another assumption, that anyone who knew these people must automatically be a terrorist.

  5. I don’t know much about iPhones. Are they saying that with iOS’s ‘built-in protection feature’ someone can destroy all the data on someone else’s iPhone simply by entering an incorrect PIN 10 times? How are they safe from curious little kids and malicious a-holes who happen to get their hands on your phone?

  6. From what they have said on the news all the data they need is available at the NSA. The NSA doesn’t want to admit they have the data. The conundrum has come from those fearful of Big Brother. So now what?

  7. This article which claims to provide “Everything You Need to Know about Apple vs the FBI” is sorely lacking. It doesn’t go into the specifics of this case whatsoever. What about the attempt by the FBI and/or the San Bernandino County Health Dept to reset the phone’s iCloud account password in order to access the last backup made of the phone’s contents (the most recent backup unfortunately for authorities was on Oct 19)? How about Apple’s efforts to send some of its tech people to assist by trying to connect the phone to an open Wi-Fi network in hopes that the phone was set to backup automatically to iCloud in order to access that backup? There is no mention of the unsuccessful efforts made by both Apple and the FBI to access the contents of the phone prior to reaching the decision that the only way to access the contents of the phone was to circumvent the security of the phone in order to access the phone directly. I think that the circumstances leading up to this request/court order should be included in “Everything You Need to Know….” That’s the problem with the media. We are only given part of the facts/story and expected to inform an opinion.

  8. Seems to me that agencies like are damned if they don’t or damned if they do!

    If some from your family or organisation is maimed or killed from some atrocity as a direct result of not obtaining information stored on that phone, you and all the Knockers will be up in arms because the FBI failed to act and all the conspiracy theorists will jump on the band wagon.

    I do find it hard to believe that the FBI don’t have someone with the skills to access the information on the phone, perhaps the need to employ some sixth graders?

    Surely if Apple don’t want/won’t give the FBI the the technology to access the phone, Why can’t Apple extract the information FOR them, without having to disclose the process to anyone???

    • Presumably, Apple could provide an over-the-air update they release to only that phone that would allow access to the data on the phone. To deploy such an update, it must be signed with Apple’s private key, so not just anyone can apply such an update. That doesn’t put a “back door” on every iOS device, but does demonstrate that Apple can provide access on a case-by-case basis, and that they are willing to cooperate with government to do so. I think that’s the slippery slope most people are worried about, more than opening all phones (though as I noted in a previous comment, in this case, the phone is owned by the county government, not the individual).

  9. What amazes me is that nobody talks about the fact that if Apple would build in a back door this door will ALSO be build in in YOUR iPhone. So everybody can start spying on you just by opening this backdoor. If the Government can, who can’t?
    Next:
    Don’t forget this is not only concerning the US of A but the whole world. Those iPhones are everywhere nowadays. even in dictatorship governments!

  10. It amazes me that we can hack into international computer mainframes, take down a defense system from another country, rebuild data structures from corrupted disks, and we can’t hack an I phone. Here’s a hint, FBI! Go buy your top notch hackers a hundred I-phones and give them an incentive to be the first to break the back door in. Then try it one time on the phone. If it works you’re in, if it doesn’t work you got 9 more tries to get it right. If you hack it by then, consider having the apple people write security for our government computer system, which apparently is already full of back doors, and side doors, maybe WINDOWS.

    I support Apple in this, but would really like to see what the FBI techs are capable of.

  11. If government serious about getting vital information against terrorism, it has many ways thought thoughtful and hard working rather than shortcuts or easy ways breaking other laws and regulations, especially conflicting with citizen’s constitutional rights not mentioning to defame private sectors, which clearly indicates an inadaquate level of effort to fight evils and protect good: fix one and break more and fundamentals.

  12. I am fully behind Apple on their decision, since I believe that it follows the Constitution. Certain tech circles have indicated that Apple has the ability to provide the full data set to the FBI of this specific iPhone without a any compromise of the privacy of any other phones. The FBI would just need to give possession of that iPhone to Apple. It is said that Apple has offered this option and the FBI has refused.

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