The Apple-versus-FBI debate continued today in front of Congress. The FBI retrieved an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino, California shooting. The FBI believes that information crucial to the case can be found on the smartphone, but, without the device’s passcode, is unable to access it. With Apple refusing to provide a new version of their software that allows the FBI to hack the iPhone more easily, matters have been taken to Washington.
The director of the FBI, James Comey, presented his case to Congress as to why he and his team deserved to get into that phone with Apple’s help. Along with lengthy banter about William and Mary College, Comey explained why using the All Writs Act from 1789 was a viable way to get Apple to open up the phone.
In a court decision yesterday, New York’s Judge James Orenstein sided with the tech company. Now Congress seems to have Apple’s back as well.
Many are concerned with the matter of precedent in this case. As representative Bob Goodlatte and other house members mentioned, this could set a bad precedent for any case involving a device with encryption. To which Director Comey agreed that yes, “it will potentially set a precedent.” Later on in the hearing, representative Ted Poe asked about the number of other phones the FBI may have that they’re looking to break into. “I don’t know the number,” answered Comey, “A lot.”
Many are troubled that the FBI is using the San Bernardino case as a scare tactic to convince the American people that we need to strongly consider the idea of backdoors into commonly used devices. But “bad cases makes bad laws” as Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren pointed out.
The hearing was full of cringeworthy moments for Director Comey. But the Directors refrain on the whole matter could be summed up with one quote. When questioned about the dangers of a backdoor into Apple’s iPhone, Comey responded questioning the notion of a backdoor. “I don’t see this as keys and backdoors. There’s already keys and doors on the phone, take the guard-dog away and let us pick the lock.” Comey mentioned the metaphor once again to Representative Poe, “Take away the drooling watchdog and give us time to pick the lock.”
In Case You Missed It…
Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have found themselves at a impasse. The government agency has requested that Apple lower the security of one of their iPhones involved in the San Bernardino shooting. The smartphone in question, an iPhone 5C, was previously owned by one of the shooters: Syed Farook. The FBI has the phone, but it’s passcode protected. After 10 wrong attempts to guess the code, the phone will wipe itself clean.
The FBI has asked Apple to create a version of the iPhone’s software that would allow an unlimited number of tries—enabling the government to try every combination until landing on the right one. To this, Apple responded no.
Cupertino offered their help in the San Bernardino case by providing cloud data they had on their servers belonging to Syed Farook, but took a stand, saying unlocking the iPhone like this would provide a great risk to all iOS users. The existence of a backdoor into the iPhone would mean malicious hackers could get their hands on the weakened software Apple provides the FBI, and everyone’s iDevice would be susceptible to lowered security.
Some have said Apple’s choice to not provide the FBI with a backdoor into the iPhone is a publicity stunt. The idea that iPhones have unbreakable security would only serve to bolster Apple’s image. Even if Tim Cook’s stance is a PR move, it’s gotten other tech companies to follow suit. Companys like Amazon, Facebook and Google have filed letters to the court claiming they stand alongside Apple in this matter.
Congress Realizes The Importance Of Strong Encryption
It wasn’t the entire house in favor of privacy and encryption. Some such as Trey Gowdy and Hank Johnson sided with the director of the FBI. “My colleagues are advocating for an evidence-free zone,” Gowdy mentioned.
But Gowdy’s colleagues like Ted Deutch realize the inherent danger of creating any digital tool. “Once the tool is created, the fear is that it might be used by others.” In the world of software where data can be copied an infinite number of times, this is a worthy argument.
California’s own representative Judy Chu continues to put the onus on the FBI. “Safe manufacturers are not required to keep keys to safes or locks.” Chu continued, “It’s clear technology is outpacing the FBI’s capabilities.”
The majority of representatives present realize the importance of encryption. And, Congressman Jerrold Nadler pointed out, ruining encryption for every iPhone user means little if criminals will just resort to using stronger methods of secret-keeping. As he pointed out during the hearing, “Once you have holes in encryption, it’s not a question of if, but when.”