For several weeks, Apple and the FBI have been embroiled in a very public battle surrounding a court order compelling Apple, as a manufacturer, to build a “master key” for data held on iPhones.
This court order and subsequent battle stem from an iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwaan Farook, and the FBI’s efforts to gain access to the information and data stored on his phone to comb it for evidence. In the order, the court said that Apple has to assist the FBI in creating a special version of the iPhone firmware that investigators could load onto the handset, which will, in turn, allow them to bypass the phone’s security measures.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, adamantly refused and has stated since day one that he and the company will fight the court order. Since the order has been handed down, many have come to Apple’s defense, including Congress, and there has been an intense hearing from both sides, overseen by the House Judiciary Committee.
What Does This Mean ?
Once the FBI made the application for the court order, it invoked a 1789 piece of legislation called the All Writs Act, which, in a nutshell, allows courts to order people or companies to do something specific (in this case, allow the FBI to access iPhones for evidence against alleged criminals).
In a statement regarding the court order, Cook iterated:
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.
And Cook isn’t alone. In fact, not all courts are on board with utilizing this Act to bypass phone security measures. Just recently, a New York judge rejected the FBI’s request to access the phone of a purported drug dealer. The New York magistrate decided that the All Writs Act can’t be used to order a technology company to manipulate its products.
“The implications of the government’s position are so far-reaching – both in terms of what it would allow today and what it implies about Congressional intent in 1789 – as to produce impermissibly absurd results,” said the judge.
How Does This Affect You ?
Apple is seeking to stay true to their commitment to consumer privacy. This isn’t simply an issue surrounding the access of a phone of an alleged killer, it may also open the door to compromising the privacy and security for all of their customers as well.
Though the order is simply demanding that Apple create a tool to circumvent a feature that deletes all of the information on a phone after 10 failed password attempts, Apple and others understand the magnitude of this order and how it may lead to opening Pandora’s box that may affect and violate statutory privacy rights on a larger scope.
Furthermore, Apple argues that the move puts your information at an even higher risk of hacking for personal information, including passwords and credit cards. Perhaps worse, Cook argues that it puts America at risk for a terror attack, as terrorists could use individual hacked phones to get into our country’s power grids and transportation hubs.
“Criminals and terrorists who want to infiltrate systems and disrupt sensitive networks may start their attacks through access to just one person’s smartphone,” he said.
Earlier this year, a group of 7 security experts, including iOS specialist Jonathan Zdziarski and famous cryptographer Bruce Schneier, vehemently argued against the FBI’s order.
An abusive partner might want to search the phone to keep tabs on [a phone’s] owner. An economic competitor might want to steal trade secrets. An identity thief might want to find the owner’s credit card numbers, PINs, or social security number. An agent of an autocratic government might be looking to persecute journalists or human rights workers who use iPhones to communicate.
Apple maintains that it should be up to Congress, not a court, to make laws deciding whether or not to grant the FBI access to an individual’s private data.
The first hearing in the case is scheduled for March 22.