“Tech giant Apple and the FBI appeared headed for a deepening confrontation Wednesday after the company’s chief pledged to fight federal demands to help mine data from an iPhone used by one of the shooters in December’s terrorist attacks in San Bernardino,” washingtonpost.com reports. “Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them,” Apple’s CEO’s statement asserts. “But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.” Here’s why that matters to The People of the Gun . . .
Many gun rights advocates comment about firearms and firearms-related issues on TTAG, other websites, social media and text. Given that more than 60 percent of our traffic comes from smart phones, it’s safe to say that many if not most and perhaps all of these comments are stored by the media involved, Apple, Android, internet providers, etc.
Some of these comments are potentially dangerous to their posters. The most extreme example: commentators write posts that threaten anti-gun politicians with violent retribution. (TTAG deletes these posts.) If and when the government/police decide to crack down on “insurrectionists,” those posts could be used to deprive their writers of their gun rights. And far worse.
But even “innocent” remarks about guns or gun rights can be taken out of context and used to build a case against their authors. If you mount a defensive gun use and the prosecutors get a hard on for you, they can mine publicly available data and use your comments in court to portray you as a trigger-happy, bloodthirsty gun owner.
If a court of law issues a warrant for privately held data (such as our deleted comments), there’s little a service can — and perhaps should — do to avoid surrendering the data. I mention all this as a warning related to this conflict. As stated above, that’s not the issue that Apple is fighting. To be clear [via Apple’s statement]:
When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.
To be even clearer [via washingtonpost.com]:
The order, signed Tuesday by a magistrate judge in Riverside, Calif., does not ask Apple to break the phone’s encryption but rather to disable the feature that wipes the data on the phone after 10 incorrect tries at entering a password. That way, the government can try to crack the password using “brute force” — attempting tens of millions of combinations without risking the deletion of the data.
The government requested the order after saying Apple failed to provide assistance voluntarily. Last week, FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress that the bureau has not been able to open the phone belonging to one of the killers.
“It has been two months now, and we are still working on it,” he said.
The phone, an iPhone 5C, was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire at a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center, a county facility. The couple, who pledged loyalty to the Islamic State terrorist group, died a few hours later in a shootout with police.
Bottom line: if Apple agrees to disable this feature, Uncle Sam will have unlimited access to iPhone users’ data — without a search warrant. As the Apple CEO says, the feature locking out iPhone users’ phones protects owners from hacking by cyber-criminals. Not to mention cyber-terrorists.
Hats off to Apple for standing firm against the full might of the federal government. This case reminds us to be careful what we say online, and the fact that it’s foolish to assume that the government can be trusted. Period.