In-case you hadn’t heard, the FBI is trying to compel Apple to assist them in cracking open an iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino shooting that took placed back on December 2, 2015.
While on the surface the demands to some might sound reasonable, “Please help us unlock this shooters phone, Apple, so that we can see if they had any other accomplices and try and find out what happened” – make no mistake, there is more than meets the eye here.
In an open letter to their customers, Tim Cook states his concerns for the situation.
The TL;DR of the current situation between Apple and the FBI is the FBI have asked Apple to created a custom version of the iOS operating system that removes certain security controls in place that prevent limits on passcode attempts and the phone wiping itself after 10 failed attempts.
Essentially the FBI wants software created which does not currently exist to be able to brute force a passcode on an iPhone to unlock it.
It does not take a genius to come to the conclusion this is a bad idea. If said custom iOS made its way into the hands of hackers, all iPhone’s in existence would be able to be unlocked. One of the best features of iOS is how it protects your phone data if stolen or lost.
I have seen some people suggest that Apple should comply with the request, because I mean, what is the worse that could happen? Apple can and could create a custom iOS version because they have the signing certificates and capability, but it would create a whole new problem entirely: legal precedent.
Legal precedent is wet dream material for lawyers all over the world.
A precedent is a legal case that establishes a principle or rule. Basically if a judge rules in favour of a certain decision, this case can be used for future reference during both sides of a trial.
The prosecution and defence in a trial can successfully use legal precedent to sway a verdict in their favour. Can you imagine if Apple is legally compelled to comply in this situation?
This precedent would be a tsunami. It would not only be used by the United States Government in future cases of suspected terrorism, but also in other situations as well from espionage to spying on dissidents.
Imagine being accused of stealing documents from a company and being ordered to surrender your iPhone to be unlocked to check for offending material to aid in the prosecutions argument? Precedent would allow this to progress further in the court system than previously known.
Not only that, but this means other countries could use the decision to unlock iPhones as well. If Apple indeed does create a custom iOS version, you can bet your bottom dollar everyone wanting to get access to iPhone data will be lining up to get it.
Apple would no longer be able to use the argument of, “this isn’t possible” or “this would take too long” – the moment such a backdoor becomes available, it is game over.
We need encryption. We need privacy. What happened in San Bernardino is incredibly sad and horrendous, but I think what is just as horrendous is using the shooting as a means of compelling companies to weaken their encryption designed to protect legitimate customers.
Why should people who commit terrorist acts be allowed to ruin encryption for the rest of us? If we weaken encryption, the only people who have won are the terrorists.