White House Begins To Realize It May Have Made A Huge Mistake In Going After Apple Over iPhone Encryption

from the not-the-debate-we-wanted dept

One of the key lines that various supporters of backdooring encryption have repeated in the last year, is that they “just want to have a discussion” about the proper way to… put backdoors into encryption. Over and over again you had the likes of James Comey insisting that he wasn’t demanding backdoors, but really just wanted a “national conversation” on the issue (despite the fact we had just such a conversation in the 90s and concluded: backdoors bad, let’s move on.):

My goal today isn?t to tell people what to do. My goal is to urge our fellow citizens to participate in a conversation as a country about where we are, and where we want to be, with respect to the authority of law enforcement.

And, yet, now we’re having that conversation. Very loudly. And while the conversation really has been going on for almost two years, in the last month it moved from a conversation among tech geeks and policy wonks into the mainstream, thanks to the DOJ’s decision to force Apple to write some code that would undermine security features on the work iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino attackers. According to some reports, the DOJ and FBI purposely chose this case in the belief that it was a perfect “test” case for its side: one that appeared to involve “domestic terrorists” who murdered 14 people. There were reports claiming that Apple was fine fighting this case under seal, but that the DOJ purposely chose to make this request public.

However, now that this has resulted in just such a “national conversation” on the issue, the DOJ, FBI and others in the White House are suddenly realizing that perhaps the public isn’t quite as with them as they had hoped. And now there are reports that some in the White House are regretting the decision to move forward and are experiencing this well known feeling:

According to the NY Times:

Officials had hoped the Apple case involving a terrorist?s iPhone would rally the public behind what they see as the need to have some access to information on smartphones. But many in the administration have begun to suspect that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department may have made a major strategic error by pushing the case into the public consciousness.

Many senior officials say an open conflict between Silicon Valley and Washington is exactly what they have been trying to avoid, especially when the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are trying to woo technology companies to come back into the government?s fold, and join the fight against the Islamic State. But it appears it is too late to confine the discussion to the back rooms in Washington or Silicon Valley.

While the various public polling on the issue has led to very mixed results, it’s pretty clear that the public did not universally swing to the government’s position on this. In fact, it appears that the more accurately the situation is described to the public, the more likely they are to side with Apple over the FBI. Given that, John Oliver’s recent video on the subject certainly isn’t good news for the DOJ.

Either way, the DOJ and FBI insisted they wanted a conversation on this, and now they’re getting it. Perhaps they should have been more careful what they wished for.

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Comments on “White House Begins To Realize It May Have Made A Huge Mistake In Going After Apple Over iPhone Encryption”

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100 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Conversation?

Actually, he’s right. You’re preaching to the choir. By phrasing things the way you did, you’re letting people who already agree with you say “well, duh” while those who disagree will look at you as some sort of fanatic and ignore anything salient you have to say.

So the useful point of what you said boils down to “don’t expect them to stop any time soon.” And I don’t think any of us do, considering that this is only a few decades after we already hashed all this out with a different administration and came to a very final conclusion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

Please shut up about this “giving up more freedom and privacy” nonsense as if the ability to get into a criminals phone to stop more criminal events has anything to do with “freedom”.

You sound like a typical privileged white dude.

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

Everybody has an occasional mental fugue in which they are incapable of interpreting what some else is saying. Anonymous comward 15Mar19 9:16 is having his.

But that does not justify “you sound like typical priviliged white dud.”

Think about what @libbodorg said, apologize, and move on.

kallethen says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

To me, it isn’t a “privacy” issue. It’s a security issue, personal security.

Phones can keep personal information (names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, etc) along with bank and credit card information (Apply Pay, Samsung Pay, apps to vendors like Amazon, etc). That info is payday to criminals. To keep criminals out of our phones (in case they are stolen or misplaced) you need good encryption and security features. Encryption cannot be good if there is a “backdoor”, that is a vulnerability. It is naive to think that a backdoor/vulnerability for government access won’t be discovered and abused by hackers.

(And it’s also naive to expect our government is perfect and won’t have anybody abuse said vulnerabilities themselves.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

But even if you do commit a crime, you’re still entitled to due process and the government has to successfully argue to a judge why they deserve to get access to your stuff.

In this scenario, the crime is already done and the perpetrators can’t be prosecuted because they’re dead. There’s nothing to do here other than undermine the security of everyone else’s phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

Except in the case we’re talking about, they DID commit a crime and the reason for getting into the phone is to discover who they were talking to in order to prevent other attacks.

Tech companies standing in the way, like they always do, just make things more dangerous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

A) There’s no evidence that the phone was used to talk to anyone else involved in the attack B) There’s no evidence that they even talked to anyone other than amongst themselves about the attack C) There’s no evidence that what is found on the phone will help prevent another attack.

You’re providing pure speculation and you just want to go fishing for something on a phone that the FBI screwed up getting access to. That’s not worth the compromising of everyone else’s phone.

Digitari says:

Re: Re: Re:4 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

Umm, this was a WORK phone, so I would bet dollars to doughnuts they called work related people. I will even say that if this phone is hacked, they will find absolutely Nothing other than work related calls and Text, wanna bet me? if I am correct you can never comment here again, if I am wrong I will never comment again.

CanadianByChoice (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

The don’t need to get into the phone to find out “who he talked to” – that information is available from the service provider (which, I’m sure, they already have).
This was a work phone; he also had a personal phone (which was distroyed); the odds of there being anything of any significance on this phone are pretty much zero. Any “serious” communication he’d had would have been on his personsal phone (which he controled), not on a work phone (which was not his).

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

What is the point to your babbling?

Do you truly believe that our government is any one’s friend? That Martin Luther King Malcom X and others did not have very thick FBI records. That left to its own devices, this beneficent government of ours would have provided total freedom for all were it not for the encryption capable cell phones that flooded the “rich white dude” market. Too bad they hadn’t been invented yet.

You don’t seem to have any coherence in your statements.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

Well, moron, the Feebs already had access…until they told the San Bernandino Clerks to change the fucking password.

This is to set a precedent. I highly recommend you watch the recent John Oliver segment on encryption. Where it’s pointed out the the New York DA submitted an amicus brief in this case saying that he wants to be able to force Apple to unlock another 200 or so iPhones ‘associated with criminality’.

Protip: if you have to try and bludgeon a company into acting against both its customer’s and its own interests, you’re doing it wrong.

coward (anon) says:

Re: Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

From the insurance industry (via Google):

“The chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are about 1 in 20 million. A person is as likely to be killed by his or her own furniture, and more likely to die in a car accident, drown in a bathtub, or in a building fire than from a terrorist attack.”

I didn’t even know that “killed by furniture” was a thing. I’m now in the process of emptying my house of furniture.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

A person is as likely to be killed by his or her own furniture, and more likely to die in a car accident, drown in a bathtub, or in a building fire than from a terrorist attack.

So which is more likely, being killed by a terrorist, or being run over by a car while drowning in a bathtub in a building that’s on fire?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

Your more likely to be stuck and killed by lighting than to be injured by a terrorist. Heck the odds of being killed by your own television (or any other furniture) are higher than being killed by a terrorist.

Sharks are 5.4 times more dangerous. Think about that for a second. No wait, stike that, my childhood Jaws nightmare flashbacks are not fun…

ViewRoyal says:

Re: If you want knee-jerk reactions you need a more recent attack

“I think our collective fear levels are too low for the public to be fully behind giving up more freedom and privacy.”

Are you suggesting that everyone giving up their right to privacy, and losing the security that protects everyone’s vital data is a “good thing” (given a “more recent attack”)???

Simple logic dictates that you can’t make people more secure by taking their security away!

TripMN says:

One of the key lines that various supporters of backdooring encryption have repeated in the last year, is that they “just want to have a discussion” about the proper way to… put backdoors into encryption.

This is like them saying, “Let’s have a conversation about the proper way to… murder… no, rape… no, uh, assault someone? Yeah. There is sometimes a need to assault someone so let’s talk about that.”

What they are trying to do is something that has no right way, but they want to change the dialogue so they think they can sell people there is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Gov’t: “We’re not asking to murder anyone. We just wanted to have a conversation about how to deliver a traumatic application of blunt force with a solid, heavy object against the skull of a person who from then after shall discontinue drawing breath.”

Citizens: “What you’re describing is murder.”

Gov’t: “Only if you use that word. If we call it something else like blunt force trauma, it’s not bad anymore, amirite?!?”

Citizens: “No.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Pretending that Groupons are the only thing of value on a modern smartphone is really reductionist.

There are Android and Apple Pay and online shopping accounts like Amazon, which are linked to credit cards and bank accounts.

There are personal details like communications with lawyers and personal physicians that could be used for blackmail or public embarrassment.

There are personal images (like those on the phones of celebrities that have been hacked and released publicly).

If you think there’s nothing on a phone that someone wouldn’t be afraid of others getting access to, then you must not use your phone for anything.

Troll Logic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Troll: “Why would you care about defending internet and device security? It’s just your stupid Groupons! Just let the government compromise them.”

Human: “I use my devices and the internet for banking, shopping, all kinds of things that involve sensitive information. So I want them to be secure.”

Troll: “Hahaha you idiot! Don’t you know the internet isn’t secure if you let the government compromise it?”

Human: “Wait, what?”

Troll: “And you’re no true scotsman, either!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You seem to think that a tool that would be available to the government would never become available to hackers.

You don’t have to commit a crime to get hacked. Tell what crime the celebrities who had their personal photos posted online did.

NEWSFLASH, this case has everything to do with encryption, which is the cornerstone of privacy and security in the cloud, whether it’s encrypting your pictures of your lunch at that posh restaurant or your credit card number or your sexting pics.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“You don’t have to commit a crime to get hacked. Tell what crime the celebrities who had their personal photos posted online did.”

Encryption wouldn’t have made a bit of difference here, because the celebs are generally hacked by social engineering methods, gaps in security (like the old last 4 digits of your credit card crap), and overlaps between multiple services.

They could have encrypted their data, but since they likely would have used a similar password or email “recovery” account, it would be all for not.

NEWSFLASH: The most insecure part of smart phone encryption is YOU – and Apple’s desire to let you have a very short pincode for your device.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It is about civil rights. The same civil rights that every American, regardless of their ethnicity or gender or whatever status you please, has. It’s not privilege to say that security and privacy are civil rights. Just because some people have rights on a lower level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that are being trampled doesn’t mean that the rights on higher levels aren’t rights.

Blaine (profile) says:

This actually is about as “perfect” of a case as they are likely to get. Jack Bower situations excluded.

Of course that’s the problem when your argument is nearly completely wrong and your personal echo chamber is running at full delusion levels.

Even the “perfect” case will blow up in your face. Hopefully it can also shatter their delusions…. well, we can always wish.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Surely not a mistake

But many in the administration have begun to suspect that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department may have made a major strategic error by pushing the case into the public consciousness.

Surely deliberate, rather than a strategic error? After all, in a democracy giving “the people” an unvarnished chance to weigh in on major issues is what it’s all about… right?

….

Yeah, OK, I had a hard time keeping a straight face even typing that…

Whatever (profile) says:

“Either way, the DOJ and FBI insisted they wanted a conversation on this, and now they’re getting it. Perhaps they should have been more careful what they wished for.”

There is no conversation, just the usual stuff: Two sides taking diametrically opposed positions, and throwing verbal grenades at each other. Neither side has any concern for middle ground. It’s the 1% on this side versus the 1% on the other side in an angry shouting match, with 98% of us in the middle just asking them to shut the f–k up already and talk nicely to eat other.

I don’t see a discussion here or anywhere else for that matter, just entrenched positions being fortified with bags and bags of horse manure (on both sides).

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

with 98% of us in the middle just asking them to shut the f–k up already and talk nicely to eat other.

Because you haven’t understood the thing at all. Otherwise you’d be with the 1% behind Apple. Also, you fail at math it seems. That 1% is much, much larger than you would like to believe.

And you are right, there is no discussion. This discussion was solved in the 90’s. There’s no discussion to be had, the FBI/Govt is in the wrong and there’s no such thing as encryption with Golden Keys and pixie powder.

Heck, I don’t like Apple and I’m actively defending it. What a wonderful world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Neither side has any concern for middle ground.

That’s because the only place middle ground exists is within the confines of your own head.

If you’re so confident a law-enforcement friendly phone would be accepted by the general public, then there’s the idea for your next invention, given how it’s so simple and all. Makes you wonder why no one’s done that before….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see a discussion here or anywhere else for that matter, just entrenched positions being fortified with bags and bags of horse manure (on both sides).

Could it be because there is no discussion to be had?

What’s stopping the government alphabet soup agencies from creating exactly what they’re talking about as a proof-of-concept?

Hell, they can use their own personal data for beta-testing, to illustrate their level of confidence in their “solution,” or “middle ground” as you call it.

Are they unwilling? Or incapable? Or both?

At any rate, that’s something YOU should be asking yourself, given your penchant for finding common ground, and all.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Encryption is funny in the way that there is no soft, squishy middle part – apart from bad implementations.. which are more crumbly than squishy.

In other words, currently, there is no middle ground. There is no half-way. There is no … “metric” that equates to “kind of” encrypted. Recognizing that is a pretty “key” part of any “discussion”. Ignoring that is, well, ignorant.

JBDragon says:

Re: Re:

That’s because you either have real protection or weak protection, there is no middle ground. When it comes to computers it’s ZERO’s and One’s!!! There’s no Maybe.

The U.S. can either have real protection protecting it’s citizens from criminals. Which is most of the population, or weaken security for most everyone in the U.S. and then fraud can run rampant.

As for the Terrorests and anyone else who cares about Encription, they’ll have ZERO problem installing any number of 3rd party Encription programs onto their devices made out of the U.S, which is around 2/3rd of them or over 500 differnt ones, which have no back doors.

So mostly the only people protected with Encryption are the Terrorists and Criminals. So the backdoor they wanted and got didn’t do a single thing to stop any Terrorists to Encrypt their phone(s) and the U.S. Government can’t do a thing to read those phones or stop it from ever happening.

Also remember this is the same Government that let these Terrorists into the country in the first place with their poor background checking. Not even bothering to look at their Social Media which would have clued the FBI into not letting them into this country.

JBDragon says:

Re: Re:

We already had this debate in the early 90’s and with the Clipper Chip and how backdoor’s in the end didn’t make any sense at all. The FBI lost!!!

The FBI going public and attacking Apple of all company’s was dumb! Apple has billions in the bank and a team of Lawyers on their beck and call. Unlike most other company’s who can be intimidated!!!

Ninja (profile) says:

It is interesting. After this whole debate started I reviewed my security practices and they now include thoroughly reviewing change logs and checking if they are actually widespread before installing. Doesn’t fully prevent an attack via the update system on phones and operational systems but it should help a lot. I’m also very interested in decentralized trust systems where many machines need to verify the signatures and accept them before your machine will treat them as trusted.

In the end this debate may actually help improving security further. Which is awesome.

vdev (profile) says:

"We didn't see this one coming"

I suspect that FBI/DoJ were more than a little surprised to be hammered so hard by Darrell Issa. He clearly knew what he was on about and was not buying what they were selling.

They probably expected him to fall in line with the “terrorist” + “law and order” mantra. Big mistake.

Their ultimate goal is a rewrite of CALEA and this gambit just made that most unlikely.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

During the 2008 presidential campaign, we all heard Democrats spouting the fact that Republicans were spouting “doomsday scenarios” to scare the public into accepting changes in the constitution and drafting new laws that erode our constitutional rights.

Now, Democrats are doing the same damn thing, using this generation’s “boogeyman ‘terrorists’ in an effort to force the people to side with them. I said it before that this would blow up in the government’s face and before the case has even had a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, this is exactly what has happened.

Just wait until the Supreme Court hears the case, and if they decide to find in favor of the FBI, that Pandora’s Box is going to blow up in their pretty little faces.

“Test case” my ass. The FBI thought that if they waved the “terrorist” banner in front of everyone’s face that everyone would follow in single file that obedient little sheep dogs. In the wake of police officers, the TSA and many other government agencies violating our rights on a daily basis, there was no way that anyone would support the government in this.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

Don’t you just love how the government tries to call anyone a terrorist when they go out and kill people? Last I checked, before September 11th, they were called mass murderers or serial killers. Just another example of the government using “terrorism” as the “all-in-one” boogeyman.

When the government tries to shame or embarrass someone, it almost always backfires. This is no different. But, I love the White House response to this considering how Obama didn’t want to push the fight with Apple or consider any law that would punish tech companies.

We live in a world where law enforcement spies on everybody. This is a bad thing because history always proves that when you give government too much power, it always corrupts.

It reminds me of something that John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton once said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Government simply cannot be trusted with our privacy or our security when it comes to the technology that every American has.

If the FBI succeeds in this, it would open the floodgates of every citizen across the face of this planet to being hacked by every computer hacker across the country.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

What shocks me is that the government doesn’t label journalists as ‘terrorists’. What happens is that when someone doesn’t support what they are doing, you are called a troublemaker, a conspiracy nut or something worse. This country hasn’t been attacked by terrorists since September 11th, no matter how many times they try to label ‘killers’ as terrorists.

Anonymous Coward says:

People look at their iPhones about 200x per day

People think about DoJ/FBI/ISIS perhaps 1x per week.

Even the Supremes checked their iPhones before thinking about the 4th Amendment in Riley.

Perhaps DoJ/FBI should think about a “strategic retreat” *now*, before things get a lot worse in both the courts and the Congress.

Tom says:

Establishment

If Americans realized the truth, that the government, both sides, Democrats and Republicans, are one and the same (the globalists; New World Order), and their slave masters, they would revolt. But of course, the globalist don’t want that to happen. They want Americans, instead, to fight with one another (left vs. right), rather than fighting against them. And as long as the blinded sheep of this country continue to believe they are fighting with one another (right vs. left), they’ll continue to blame one another instead of blaming those, a single establishment consisting of puppeteers (the Kochs, Rockefellers, Soros, the entertainment-controlled media, as well as other bankers and billionaires), who are actually responsible, and who are attempting to control our lives and our future.

Actually, though simple, it’s quite brilliant, and it’s worked out perfectly for them for 100+ years. Why it works so well is that most people will not wise up until they have grown too old and are dying out, while being replaced by yet younger and greater naïve fools, who are oblivious to the game from the beginning, thus, it is reaching the point where this will continue to work unabated. The masses will remain clueless… exactly the way their handlers want it to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

I said it before; I’ll say it again:

Silly government! You don’t go after the well-known brands with lots of money and lawyers that will fight back. You go after the little companies who can’t fight back. Then once the courts twist what you want into law, then you can go after the big companies.

Worked for the MPAA / RIAA in America. (Backfired in Australia against iiNet.) Going after Apple was never going to be a good idea.

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