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

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 11:01am

    A note about Backdoors

    See this article entitled: How Google’s Web Crawler Bypasses Paywalls

    The article itself is about how to quickly get your chrome browser to use the same trick that Google's Web Crawler uses to access paywalled sites. You too can read those paywalled sites by making the paywalled sites think that you are the Google Web Crawler.

    See the last sentence of the article:
    Remember: Any time you introduce an access point for a trusted third party, you inevitably end up allowing access to anybody.
    Do you suppose that would also apply to encryption backdoors?

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.