Updated 29 March 2016: The US government has dropped its legal case against Apple – because it claims to have accessed the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone without Apple’s help.
In a court filing, the Justice Department said it had accessed the “data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple,” though it did not specify how it gained this access.
Apple welcomed the news. “This case should never have been brought,” Apple said in a statement.
“This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy,” it added. “Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion.”
The developments lend some credence to the theories that this was never about gaining access to a single device, but instead about strong-arming Apple into providing a brute-forcing tool to the FBI, capable of quickly cracking any Apple device.
Podcast: Apple vs FBI analysis
Earlier this month, it was
reported that Apple plans to put cloud encryption keys in the hands of its users.
Currently Apple looks after these keys, and so if served with a warrant, it must hand over iCloud access to authorities. By passing on password-protected keys to users, Apple would bolster the physical encryption found on its devices, with access available solely through customers rather than Apple, even if the company wanted to.
Updated 9 March 2016: Edward Snowden has outright dismissed the FBI's claims that only Apple has the technology to unlock the iPhone in question.
Updated 4 March 2016: Now the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has weighed in – urging the FBI to proceed with caution.
Apple is embroiled in a battle over privacy with the FBI that could have wide-reaching repercussions, and now major figures in the technology industry have been pulled into the debate.
The FBI is demanding Apple creates a custom operating system that would make it possible for the policing agency to brute-force itself into an iPhone 5C. This device belonged to Syed Farook, who, along with partner Tashfeen Malik, murdered 14 people in December 2015.
See also: Apple’s encryption dilemma explained – does giving the FBI access matter?
The FBI argues that access to Farook’s phone could be useful in understanding who might have been behind the attacks. But Apple argues creating a back door would set a dangerous new precedent for its customers and for privacy.
Google has come out in favour of Apple’s decision and Edward Snowden has described the story as the “most important tech case in a decade”. Many more have weighed in – read on for more.
1. Apple vs FBI: Apple welcomes news FBI cracked San Barnardino shooter's iPhone
Image: Flickr / fw_gadget
In light of the FBI claiming it has now unlocked the device in question, an Apple spokesperson has said the case should “never have been brought”.
Here’s the statement in full:
“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought.
“We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.
“Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security, and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.
“This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion.”
2. Apple vs FBI: Justice Department accesses San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, drops case against Apple
Image: Flickr / Cranberries
In a brief filing this Monday, the Justice Department said it was dropping the case against Apple.
It said: “Applicant United States of America, by and through its counsel of record, the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, hereby files this status report called for by the Court’s order issued on March 21, 2016. (CR 199.)
“The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc. Mandated by Court’s Order Compelling Apple Inc. To Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016.
“Accordingly, the government hereby requests that the Order Compelling Apple Inc. To Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016 be vacated.”
3. Apple vs FBI: NSA Whistleblower dismisses FBI claim as "bullsh*t"
Image: Flickr/Tony Webster
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has now dismissed the FBI’s claim that only Apple can access the iPhone in question as “bullsh*t”.
“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’ of getting into this phone,” he said. “Respectfully, that’s bullsh*t.”
Shortly after the comments, made via video link from Moscow to
Common Cause, Snowden tweeted support for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report that also dismisses the FBI’s claims.
“The global technological consensus is against the FBI,” Snowden
4. Apple vs FBI: UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Image: Flickr/UN/Jean-Marc Ferré
UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has urged “great caution” in attempting to undo Apple’s encryption – and warned that the FBI risks “unlocking a Pandora’s Box that could have extremely damaging implications for the human rights of many millions of people, including their physical and financial security.”
The commissioner said in a
statement: “[The case] will have tremendous ramifications for the future of individuals’ security in a digital world, which is increasingly inextricably meshed with the actual world we live in.
“It is potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes, as well as to criminal hackers... Encryption tools are widely used around the world, including by human rights defenders, civil society, journalists, whistle-blowers and political dissidents facing persecution and harassment.”
5. Apple vs FBI: Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook slammed the FBI over a lack of communication – claiming he first heard about the case through the press.
ABC: “I think there should have been [more done]. We found out about the filing from the press and I don’t think that’s the way the railroad should be run.
“And I don’t think that something so important to this country should be handled in this way.”
He also said providing the technology to the FBI would be “bad for America”.
“It would also set a precedent that I believe many people in America would be offended by,” he said.
6. Apple vs FBI: Bill Gates
Microsoft founder Bill Gates appeared to take the FBI’s line of reasoning – saying that this is a “specific case where the government is asking for access to information” – although this would appear to be undermined by later developments about iPhone access from the US Justice Department.
“They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case,” said Gates.
He also suggested gaining access to the iPhone was “no different” to rifling through bank records.
“Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon around the disk drive and said: ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times’,” Gates said.
He later told
Bloomberg he was disappointed with the coverage of his comments.
“That doesn’t state my view on this,” he said, speaking with Bloomberg Go. “The extreme view that government always gets everything, nobody supports that. Having the government be blind, people don’t support that.”
7. Apple vs FBI: FBI director James Comey
Image: Wikimedia Commons
In a post titled
‘We Could Not Look the Survivors in the Eye if We Did Not Follow this Lead ’ on the Lawfare blog Comey says the organisation wants “the chance to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly... We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.
“Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”
And a court filing from the FBI accused Apple of refusing to grant access to the device as “based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy”.
8. Apple vs FBI: Apple hits back
Image: Flickr/Roger Schultz
customer letter says “compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.”
And it warns a custom backdoor would be open to misuse: “Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key.
“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.”
Weakening encryption would “only hurt the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.”
9. Apple vs FBI: Apple says case is unprecedented
“We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack,” Apple writes.
questions and answers section of its customer letter, Apple refutes the FBI's claim that its reluctance is about marketing: “Nothing could be further from the truth.
“We feel strongly that if we were to do what the government has asked of us, not only is it unlawful, but it puts the vast majority of good and law abiding citizens who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data at risk.”
Apple also says the information it could have had access to – on the iCloud services – was no longer accessible because the Apple ID password associated with the phone had been changed while the device was in FBI custody.
10. Apple vs FBI: Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Image: Flickr/Maurizio Pesce
Google CEO Sundar Pichai posted a series of
tweets that could be read as loose support for Apple’s stance on the matter.
“Important post by Tim Cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy,” Pichai said. “We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer device & data. Could be a troubling precedent.”
11. Apple vs FBI: Google senior VP of Android Hiroshi Lockheimer
Image: Flickr/Kham Tran
Senior VP of Android, Chrome OS and Chromecast, Hiroshi Lockheimer, joined the debate.
Bloomberg he said: “What we are talking about here is a completely different scenario, where we, the tech industry, or I guess in this case Apple, is being asked – it sounds like – to help in hacking their product. I think that is a very different scenario from the way things work today. I think that requires a lot of discussion and debate. It’s an important decision. ”
“I have a lot of respect for law enforcement and of course I don’t have any respect for criminals,” he said. “That’s not what this is about. I think it’s more about a completely new way of thinking about things and we really need to debate that.”
12. Apple vs FBI: Edward Snowden
Image: Flickr/Tony Webster
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed the worldwide surveillance programmes of the US and the UK, has said the technical changes demanded by the FBI would “make it possible to break into an iPhone (5C or older) in a half hour”.
Snowden described the clash on
Twitter as the “most important tech case in a decade” and that a win by the FBI results in an “insecurity mandate” – a “world where Americans can’t sell secure products, but our competitors can”.
13. Apple vs FBI: Mark Zuckerberg
Image: Flickr/The Crunchies
Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook founder and chief exec Mark Zuckerberg said the company is “sympathetic” to Apple.
“We believe in encryption, we think that that’s an important tool,” he said. “I don’t think that requiring back doors to encryption is either going to be an effective thing to increase security or is really the right thing to do.”
He went on to say that Facebook has a “responsibility” to prevent terrorism and attacks, and that it’s willing to take material that promotes terrorism from the service.
“If we have opportunities to work with governments and folks to make sure that there aren’t terrorist attacks then we’re going to take those opportunities and we feel a pretty strong responsibility to help make sure society is safe,” he said. “We care about that. That’s a big deal. We take that seriously.”
14. Apple vs FBI: New York Police Department
Image: Flickr/Adrian Owen
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance claimed police and prosecutors are struggling to access 175 Apple devices because of the company’s encryption. At a press conference, Vance described Apple devices as “warrant-proof”.
Associated Press, Vance said police frequently rely on evidence taken from phone data to investigate everything from identity theft to murder.
And New York City police commissioner William Bratton
said: “We cannot give those seeking to harm us additional tools to keep their activity secret. I reiterate my call on Congress to act immediately in passing legislation to provide law enforcement the tools we need to keep America safe.”
15. Apple vs FBI: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Image: Flickr/Michael Basial
While Microsoft hasn’t come out officially for or against, CEO Satya Nadella retweeted chief legal officer Brad Smith – who himself linked to a Reform Government Surveillance statement.
The Reform Government Surveillance group is a collection of Silicon Valley heavyweights – AOL, Apple, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.
Microsoft’s Brad Smith wrote that it’s “essential to have [a] broad public discussion on these important issues.”
statement from Reform Government Surveillance reads: “Technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers’ information.”
16. Apple vs FBI: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Perhaps unsurprisingly, privacy advocate NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation found itself on the side of Apple.
In a statement posted to its
website, the organisation said: “We are supporting Apple here because the government is doing more than simply asking for Apple’s assistance. For the first time, the government is requesting Apple write brand new code that eliminates key features of iPhone security—security features that protect us all.
“Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone. And once that master key is created, we're certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security.
“The US government wants us to trust that it won't misuse this power. But we can all imagine the myriad ways this new authority could be abused.
17. Apple vs FBI: Ex-NSA director and CIA chief Michael Hayden
Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Speaking with the Wall Street Journal’s associate editor John Bussey, former director of the NSA and ex-chief of the CIA Michael Hayden called the FBI demands “wrong”.
“We should allow encryption because – I can win this argument in the narrowly defined security route,” Hayden said. “America is simply more secure with unbreakable, end to end encryption.”
He then says that “no encryption is unbreakable” – that it simply “takes more computing power”.