Cracked: FBI drops Apple case


Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik arrive in Chicago on July 27, 2014. U.S. Government

Richard Clark said the FBI really did not need Apple’s help to break into the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. The former U.S. counterterrorism official and security adviser to the White House told NPR he believed the NSA could do it, no problem, but that the FBI was “not as interested in solving the problem as they are in getting a legal precedent.” Edward Snowden said the same via Twitter.

The FBI just proved them right (the Guardian):

The US government dropped its court fight against Apple after the FBI successfully pulled data from the iPhone of San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook, according to court records.

The development effectively ended a six-week legal battle poised to shape digital privacy for years to come. Instead, Silicon Valley and Washington are poised to return to a simmering cold war over the balance between privacy and law enforcement in the age of apps.

Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing Monday evening that they no longer needed Apple’s help in getting around the security countermeasures on Farook’s device.

Great, right? Ross Schulman, Senior Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute, tells NPR that if the FBI really is serious about cybersecurity, now it will share what it knows about the iPhone’s vulnerability with Apple engineers so they can fix it.

On the other hand:

A discovery of a software vulnerability would be a major reason for the FBI to keep the tool secret and reuse it in other investigations involving older versions of iPhones, like the iPhone 5C at stake here.

So far FBI is not saying what “outside party” helped crack the phone or how (Los Angeles Times):

The breakthrough came over the weekend, when the information stored on the phone was extracted, said a federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He declined to say anything about the contents of the phone, other than that FBI agents were reviewing the material.

The official also remained tight-lipped about the method that was used to beat the iPhone’s security barriers, as well as the identity of the group that delivered it to FBI agents. Any speculation about the effect of the breakthrough on other cases involving locked phones would be premature, he said.


Despite the government’s claims, the fight over Farook’s iPhone was seen as a test case over whether technology companies could be forced to develop computer code to assist a criminal investigation. It took on broader implications as well about how far the government could go in forcing companies or individuals into its service.

Seems like the United States once fought a second war with England over its government impressing U.S. persons into its service.

But the Boston Globe believes the Apple corporation reaches too far in its defense, claiming computer code is speech:

As several legal analysts have pointed out, the implications of the company’s First Amendment claims are profound. As a practical matter, nearly all corporate compliance in 2016 involves writing and using software. Not all software is as sophisticated as the code Apple would have to write in the San Bernardino case; just setting up formulas in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet counts as coding too. So if the government makes a company add up lines on a spreadsheet to comply with financial transparency requirements it dislikes, does Apple believe that would be unconstitutional compelled speech too?

So keep your government close, but keep your corporate “persons” closer. That slope has gotten slipperier ever since Santa Clara County vs. The Union Pacific Railroad.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Justice, National, Privacy

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