Don't Believe The Hype: No, Apple HAS NOT Done What The FBI Now Wants '70 Times' Before

from the propaganda dept

In the past couple of days, you may have heard various claims regarding the whole Apple encryption backdoor debate saying things like "but Apple has unlocked iPhones 70 times before." I've seen a bunch of people tweeting and linking to such claims, and it keeps coming up. And it's bullshit. The 70 times that Apple helped law enforcement before were totally different situations involving unencrypted information where Apple had the ability to extract from the phone because it wasn't encrypted. That's kind of the whole point here. Yes, of course, Apple can and does provide access to information that it can easily access. In fact, in this very case the FBI submitted a warrant and was able to get all of the information from the unencrypted aspect of Farook Syed's iCloud account:
That's very, very, very, very, very, very different from arguing that because the company was willing to hand over that unencrypted data that Apple had full access to, that it's the same kind of thing as building a hacking tool that undermines the foundations of encryption -- and would set a precedent basically allowing a judge to order any company to backdoor and destroy their encryption.

And yet, this message is gaining steam. It's a talking point that first was given life by the feds last October when they tossed out that "70 times in the past" number as part of the earlier All Writs Act case we'd been covering. But unfortunately it picked up steam yesterday with a Shane Harris piece at the Daily Beast yesterday, claiming misleadingly that "a 2015 court case shows that the tech giant has been willing to play ball with the government before -- and is only stopping now because it might 'tarnish the Apple brand.'" That's hellishly misleading, which is too bad because Harris is so often good on these issues.

Apple, and plenty of other companies have always been willing to "play ball" when there's a legitimate warrant along with actual information they can provide. That's because they have to. But this is different. This case involves information that Apple does not have and which the FBI asked for, and the judge has now granted -- an order for Apple to proactively figure out a way to hack around the security protections on the device, allowing the FBI to then look to brute force the (probably) weak passcode on the phone. In other words, the concept and the principle are very, very different than those "70 previous times." And it's not just about "tarnishing Apple's brand," though I'm sure that's at least a part of it. As Julian Sanchez rightly notes at Time, there's so much more at stake here, including opening up the possibility that judges can order any tech company to help the government hack into their systems.

Once again: handing over info you have full access to is not even remotely close to forcing a company to build hacking tools for the government to undermine their own security.

But, of course, that hasn't stopped many in the press from taking this "but Apple unlocked 70 iPhones in the past" talking point and running with it. It's all over the place, including many sources that should know better.

Don't let the propaganda fool you. This case is very, very different and there are much bigger issues at stake.

Filed Under: all writs act, encryption, fbi, security, warrants
Companies: apple

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 10:29am


    Encryption technologies are "by default" created with master keys especially for the testing phase of the product to ensure functionality. And while this is usually necessary during the development of the product... most companies never remove this and pretend that it never happened in the first place.

    It would not surprise me in the least if Apple already has a master key capable of decrypting the device but will do anything to protect that information. If we see the news were Apply settles this with the FBI/Court quietly behind closed doors, then you can bet this is the most likely reason.

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