By Brenda Flanagan
Fourteen people died in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, and when FBI agents recovered one of the shooter’s iPhones, they asked Apple to help them unlock it so they could recover data stores, expecting no pushback because Apple had unlocked dozens of iPhones for police in the past. But this time, Apple refused though investigators say, they need that intel on terrorists.
“And if law enforcement can’t do that, they’re out there, running amuck doing whatever they want, being able to plot attacks and successfully carry them out without law enforcement ever knowing. So, I would suggest, that would be blood on Apple’s hands,” said Manny Gomez.
“I can’t conceive of a more serious situation than to have two terrorists who may have been communicating with other people. We have no idea who those other people are, and how they communicated because this phone is locked,” said Tim Ryan, managing director of Kroll Cyber Security.
But this time, the court didn’t ask Apple to crack the shooter’s password; instead, it asked the company to create software designed to bypass a particular iPhone security feature that wipes clean all stored data if someone makes more than 10 attempts to hack the password.
“We have no sympathy for terrorists,” Apple’s CEO Tim Cook posted in a message to customers. He added, “In the wrong hands, this software, which doesn’t exist today, would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
“If Apple provides the FBI a way to circumvent the 10 failed attempts and then a deletion, then the FBI — with court orders — would be able to get into other iPhones. The FBI is still going to have to come up with the password on its own,” Ryan said.
But that raises concerns for people who worry about personal data stored on their iPhones.
“You’re able to have that security because of all of this encryption. You shouldn’t feel as comfortable moving forward, that that will be the case, if that encryption is undermined. If Apple is forced to do this, none of that would be as secure,” said Rebecca Livengood of the ACLU.
The ACLU supports Apple’s legal battle. But police see encrypted cybercrime as a growing threat and say they can find a balance between keeping data secure and keeping citizens safe.
“We first have to have a crime occur, for us to even try to get the information. And the information that we usually request is very specific and narrow in our scope,” said Lt. Cy Bleistine from the NJ State Police cybercrimes unit.
The court gave Apple five days to comply with its order. Apple shows no signs of giving in. Analysts say this case could set a legal precedent and seems headed for the Supreme Court.