Apple vs the FBI: a recap of this week’s events

By , Feb 20, 2016

apple_vs_fbi

When a federal judge in California ordered Apple to aid the FBI in an investigation earlier this week, she sparked what many believe is the most important privacy debate in recent memory. The FBI wants access to the passcode-locked iPhone of one of the shooters involved in last year’s San Bernardino massacre, and it wants Apple to help it break in.

At a high level, this seems pretty simple: the FBI has bad guy’s phone; it wants to use it to try and stop other bad guys; it needs Apple’s help to do that. But you don’t have to zoom in very far to see that it’s much more complex. Apple refused to help the FBI, saying that the request “undermines the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

That was on Wednesday. Here is everything that has happened since.

Tuesday, February 16

Judge orders Apple to help FBI recover data from San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone – The ruling says that the Cupertino firm must provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI in recovering data from the handset. More specifically, the device is an iPhone 5c that belongs to Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California last year. The phone is locked with a passcode, and prosecutors say data found in Farook’s iCloud account suggests it could contain evidence.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) announced its support for Apple, saying that it applauded the company for “standing up for real security and the rights of its customers.” It later filed an amicus brief in support of Apple’s position.

Wednesday, February 17

Apple vehemently opposes FBI request to create iPhone backdoor in San Bernardino court case – A letter entitled ‘A Message to Our Customers’ appears on Apple’s website, signed by Tim Cook, that explains what the court order is and why Apple is against it. It’s a lengthy post, but the gist of it is that the iPhone-maker feels the FBI has asked it to create a “backdoor” for its iOS platform that would be extremely dangerous if in the wrong hands.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Department of Justice is asking Apple for access to just one device. “They are not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to one of their products,” Earnest told reporters at a daily briefing. That same day, the DOJ released a statement saying, “it is unfortunate that Apple continues to refuse to assist the department in obtaining access to the phone of one of the terrorists involved in a major terror attack on U.S. soil.”

Several politicians and lawmakers came out strongly on the side of law enforcement. A few of the more notable statements came from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who said “Apple chose to protect a dead ISIS terrorist’s p‎rivacy over the security of the American people, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, “in case Apple doesn’t comply with the FBI’s request, [we] are prepared to put forward a law which would essentially require that.”

After a lengthy silence, leaders from Silicon Valley began to voice their support for Apple’s fight. The list of names included Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Yahoo CISO Bob Lord, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and Facebook (a general statement from the company).

Thursday, February 18

Apple gets more time to fight order to unlock iPhone. The company’s response in court will be due February 26 instead of Tuesday (the 23rd), said two people familiar with the timeline, who asked not to be identified because the matter wasn’t public. The federal magistrate who on February 16 granted the Justice Department’s request for an order forcing Apple to help the FBI had given the company five business days to oppose her order.

Friday, February 19

DOJ Files Motion to Force Apple to Hack iPhone in San Bernardino Case. “The government does not seek to deny Apple its right to be heard, and expects these issues to be fully briefed before the Court; however, the urgency of this investigation requires this motion now that Apple has made its intention not to comply patently clear,” the Justice Department wrote in its 35-page motion. It also noted that it feels Apple’s refusal in this matter “to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy above all else.”

Apple Executives Detail Scope Of FBI Request and company’s motivations for not complying. In a call with reporters, Apple executives spoke in response to the motion filed by the Justice Department, saying that they had been communicating with the government since January and had posed several different ways to get the information that the FBI says it needs. Those methods were rendered moot apparently when the Apple ID password to the attacker’s account was changed less than 24 hours after the government took possession of the phone.

San Bernardino County says it reset terrorist’s iCloud password while cooperating with the FBI. The iCloud account connected to Syed Farook’s iPhone was reset in the hours after the December 2 terrorist attack by a San Bernardino County employee in an effort to gain access to iCloud information connected to Farook. San Bernardino County says that it did so while cooperating with the FBI.

Donald Trump calls for a boycott of Apple products. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted out a request that his followers boycott all Apple products until it complies with the government’s request. Trump has more than 6 million Twitter followers, and is a favorite to win the White House this fall. Speaking on background with reporters, Apple executives said they “felt they were in good company given the other groups and people Trump has criticized in the past.”

And that brings us to today, Saturday, February 20. Expect to hear a lot more about this in the days, weeks and even months to come. It seems very clear that both Apple and the Justice Department are intent on making this battle about much more than a single iPhone.

Other good reads on Apple vs the FBI:

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  • Chris Ryan

    “The iCloud account connected to Syed Farook’s iPhone was reset in the hours after the December 2 terrorist attack by a San Bernardino County employee in an effort to gain access to iCloud information connected to Farook. San Bernardino County says that it did so while cooperating with the FBI.”

    so where is this employee, and why won’t he/she just give out the password?
    am i missing something here?

    • Elias Chao

      I read that the last backup was 6 weeks or so before the terrorist attack.

  • Mike

    If Apple does end up complying with the government, I may (for once) seriously consider purchasing an android device instead.

    There is absolutely no way the government can guarantee that this software will only be used for this event. Somebody WILL use this software to hack all existing Apple devices; the US government is putting the whole world in danger.

    • Melvco

      The problem here is that if Apple is forced to comply, it sets a precedent for *all device makers*.

    • n0ahcruz3

      How is it gonna put the whole world in danger? I know its gonna violate privacy but how will it put the whole world in danger?

      • Julio Hernandez

        Because in the wrong hands someone could potentially steal millions of people information like credit card info and even social security numbers and other personal data or infect the phones with malware, aside from violating people’s privacy.

      • TechnoBuff

        You came up with this implausible scenario in your own mind… right?
        You will need physical access to the phone to install…….. Go figure

      • Mike

        Are you implying that Tim Cook’s email is essentially an implausible scenario? Creating a less secure software is the danger here because it CAN get redistributed somehow, THAT’S the warning he’s giving. If there was no danger to the public, Apple (Tim Cook) would not deny the request to create a backdoor software; its because they know it can get into the wrong hands.

        As for the physical device… Ever heard of a virus? A bug? An exploit?

      • TechnoBuff

        Tim Cook’s concerns are legitimate but certainly misrepresented.
        IOS is not android….. Every iPhone out there has to communicate with Apple’s server and digitally signed before any software update. Unless the less secure software was released by Apple, there is no way this will affect the general public. so your point about exploits, bugs and viruses can only occur if your phone is jail broken.
        As for jail breakers, those are risks one has to accept for going that route, the possibility of being hacked or compromised… Every jail breaker knows that.
        So there is no danger to the general public as being presented, this is not Android nor Windows… THIS IS Apple IOS.
        The issue is about privacy and the slippery slopes of individual rights in which FBI can ask or can unlock any phone in their possession PHYSICALLY,which can lead to other countries asking for the same software.

      • n0ahcruz3

        Lol putting the world in danger is a bit overblown isn’t? However This will impact apple’s business and other tech companies which will affect jobs That’s for sure, when he said putting the world in “danger” the first thing that I thought was like nuclear codes or global catastrophe something like that. Lol

      • Mike

        That’s not what I meant lol, I mean for everyone who essentially has an iPhone it’ll be dangerous. I’ll admit I took it to an extreme though haha.

      • n0ahcruz3

        Better lol

      • Errol Freeman

        The thing is…..it’s not just one phone, it’s EVERYONE’S phone. This is all in order to set a precedent for this to be done again on the future for something potentially less than that. Give an inch, take a mile. One step at a time.

    • Jackson Grong

      Android??? Hahaha, it has a 100 holes.
      (Just like Windows 10)

      • Jerry

        HATE HATE HATE! Windows 10 and I’m a Windows fan. Microsoft can’t get it together they’re trying too hard to change things

      • Jackson Grong

        Still use and love Win7(soon I’ll buy the retina 15″

    • TechnoBuff

      Read the court order…..
      Apple was never asked to create and hand over the software but rather to create to unlock the phone and this can be done at Apple’s facility.
      Apple has not been ordered to hand over any software.
      Putting the world in dange!!!!!
      the whole world does not use Iphone …. Majority still uses Android

      • Mike

        You’re missing the point here. Once a backdoor software has been created, there is potential for someone internally to steal it and, therefore, possibly leak it.

        The danger isn’t releasing the software, it’s creating one that might get into the wrong hands.

      • Charles222

        Also there’s exactly zero reason why *every* government starts forcing Apple to do this if it capitulates here. So Russia/China/etc.

      • TechnoBuff

        The potential……… You have to do better than that.

        If Apple can keep its products secrets, I am sure they can do better with a software with such huge implications.

        Decisions about our security and privacy are issues we will have to face in years to come and the earlier we start grappling with that, the better.

      • Skoven

        That totally depends on how Apple would implement such a software: Apple HAS to sign the iOS software, in order for it to be installed on an iPhone.
        If Apple where to keep a local signing-server for this purpose alone, then the authorities would have to show up at Apple in order to get the hackable iOS version on the phone. That also means that hackers wont be able to use the hackable iOS version, just like iPhone users aren’t able to downgrade to a previous iOS version, even it they have the firmware.

      • TechnoBuff

        Good perspective actually.

      • Sailor_V90

        That’s a very brilliant point mate.

      • Mike

        Right on, I like you’re thinking.

      • Steve Harvey

        People who have data to steal use iPhones.

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    • Skoven

      That totally depends on how Apple would implement such a software: Apple HAS to sign the iOS software, in order for it to be installed on an iPhone.

      If Apple where to keep a local signing-server for this purpose alone, then the authorities would have to show up at Apple in order to get the hackable iOS version on the phone. That also means that hackers wont be able to use the hackable iOS version, just like iPhone users aren’t able to downgrade to a previous iOS version, even it they have the firmware.

      But yes… the government would be able to unlock any iPhone (if they have a court-order i presume).

    • 5723alex .

      Android doesn’t even have to comply as it is easy to get all the data from an Android device.

    • Satyam Panchal

      If Apple create backdoor because of fbi… I will go to river side n throw my iPhone n come back home n cry for 10 min then I will never buy any phone in this world to get best privacy

  • TechnoBuff

    This is a situation Apple cannot win as the court of public opinion is dividied on this.
    Everyone should read the court order and the inherent details. A lot of people are commenting on what they do not have any precise detail about and which was further spun into a PR job by Apple and IDB including other tech blogs reporting out of context.

    The court order stated the details of the particular phone and most importantly that the phone can be unlocked at Apple’s facility and not at FBI’s. Apple was never asked to give them the software but rather create one which Apple will have further control over. It is wrong to assume otherwise until proven.

    As much as i love Apple. This is a war apple cannot win, especially since the court has mandated it and frankly Apple has somehow turned this into a PR for its products.

  • Satyam Panchal

    If fbi made apple to make backdoor then millions of iPhone will be get hacked by hackers and fbi has to find million of hackers -_- if fbi has power to get millions of hackers then go make Apple create backdoor ….. Fbi are going to get in big trouble…

    • askep3

      Fbi wives pics

      • Satyam Panchal

        N then we will fap on those pics fap fap fap!!! ヽ(´o`;

      • askep3

        Omg, and that emote tho

  • Morgan Freeman

    I had my iCloud account accessed by an unknown person(s) yesterday- they sent lost mode requests to my devices- with a message to email them at “helpappleusa@ gmail” to get a password. Another person said their account got locked out for 8 hours.

    Had to restore devices to get the lock off. Just a heads up for people out there- make sure you have 2-factor turned on! I must have mistakenly turned it off at some point very recently, but the timing of this is awful suspicious if you ask me.

    There are threads on reddit and macrumors about this happening to others.

  • Sailor_V90

    Oddly enough this reminds of the scene in Resident Evil were Spence in retaliation throws the T-Virus on the ground and then all hell broke loose. Perhaps that scene came to mind because it is not to far fetch think that a digital apocalypse could indeed happen. I mean movies like Enemy of the State and The Conspirator and JFK and so forth don’t exist for no reason. All “lies” are based on some truth. More so anyone who thinks the government has your best interest is a fool. My word maybe we are in the last day lol.

  • Xee

    Apple should just continue to refuse and tell FBI to go jump!

    Apple should just say ok and give the FBI software that wipes the phone – ops that would be funny!

    What’s all this about changing the Apple ID/iCloud password and now it limits options?

  • InfinitePlusOne

    Why is this a terrorist attack and all the other shooting in US that counts over 100s not being called terrorist attack. why aren’t those other guys getting arrested. or were they crazy so they don’t need to be arrested or do not have iPhone? go check their phones too?

  • Chris

    There just using this as a excuse to peek into all iPhones