No, The FBI Does Not 'Need' The Info On Farook's iPhone; This Is Entirely About The Precedent

from the stop-saying-that dept

Over and over again as people keep talking about the Apple / FBI encryption stuff, I keep seeing the same line pop up. It's something along the lines of "but the FBI needs to know what's on that phone, so if Apple can help, why shouldn't it." Let's debunk that myth. The FBI absolutely does not need to know what's on that phone. It might not even care very much about what's on that phone. As the Grugq ably explained last week, there's almost certainly nothing of interest on the phone. As he notes, Farook destroyed his and his wife's personal phones, indicating that if there were anything truly important, he would have destroyed the last phone too. Also:
FBI already has a massive amounts of data, all of which indicates that Farook and Malik were not in contact with a foreign terrorist organisation, nor were they in contact with any other unknown terrorists.

Even if, despite all evidence to the contrary, Farook and Malik were somehow in invisible traceless contact with an ISIS handler, that handler would not have revealed information about other cells, because that would violate the most basic tenet of security — need to know.
Other information, including things like who they were in contact with could be obtained from other sources -- either service providers for metadata or from the phones of those they were in contact with.

There's another post by forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski that provides even more reasons why there's almost certainly nothing of use on the phone -- noting that Farook left the "track my phone" feature on, even though it's on the same settings page as turning off the iCloud backup, which the FBI claims he turned off.

But let's get beyond even that. Assume that there actually is something interesting or useful on the phone. That still doesn't mean the FBI "needs" the information. In basically any situation where crime has occurred, there is a ton of information that might be useful, but that is far from mandatory. Hell, in this case alone, there were the destroyed phones. It's much more likely that there would have been useful information on those phones. But no one's talking about how the FBI "needs" that information, because everyone knows the FBI can't get it. And, since much of the planning for this attack must have happened between Farook and Malik in their home, the FBI is never going to know what they said to each other as they sat around the kitchen table, or on the sofa, or in bed. And, again, no one is upset about this information that is "not accessible" because there's always information that's not accessible.

In some cases, it's because it was destroyed. In some cases, it's because it was verbal communications that were never stored anywhere. In some cases, it's because people communicated in a code that only they know. In some cases, it's because information wasn't found. There are dozens of reasons why information that might be useful isn't accessible to the government during criminal investigations.

And you know what: it's not the end of the world.

Hell, in almost every criminal case, there's a ton of missing information. The cases are about taking all the evidence that they do have and making inferences on the rest. And no one whines about that.

So why are so many people insisting that the FBI "needs" the information on this particular phone?

There are a few possible reasons, but none of them are very convincing or compelling. There's just the simple fact that the information is there and, it appears, if Apple is forced to create this special operating system (creatively called FBiOS by some), it will remove the security features that otherwise block the FBI from brute forcing Farook's passcode. Of course, no one seems to be mentioning that if he has a really long passcode, brute forcing it might not work either (perhaps because that's unlikely). But, again, that's another situation under which the information wouldn't actually be available.

Honestly, the only reason that the FBI wants to force Apple to create the special operating system for this particular phone is the precedent that it can go to court and force a company to build special hacking tools to remove security features from customers. That's a big deal. The information on the phone is almost certainly not a big deal at all.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 10:50am

    This is one of those rare moments in history where saying "First, they came for the [INSERT GROUP HERE] and I did not speak out" doesn't sound so trite, isn't it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 10:52am

    But...But Comey said this wasn't about setting a precedent. Surely the director of the FBI is an honest person.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 22 Feb 2016 @ 10:56am

    Not Quite the Only Reason

    Likely, you are right, @Mike Masnick. The timing on the motion to compel Apple to assist the FBI reeks of ... something not right.

    But after looking at some of the other stories coming out in connection with this iPhone, I have to wonder if by some chance some person or persons in the FBI screwed up, someone else in the agency became aware of the screw-up and they're now trying to compel Apple to help them decrypt the iPhone at least in part as a means of covering up or diverting attention from the screw-up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:15am

      Re: Not Quite the Only Reason

      Apart from the necessity to consider the good old "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" in connection with a government agency, could this be connected to all the flag waving we've been seeing in the War on encryption, as in the FBI framing this as a tech company putting themselves on the terrorists side by employing encryption and not handing the Bureau the keys?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Angrywebmaster, 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:31am

      Re: Not Quite the Only Reason

      Basically, yes. The FBI screwed up by the numbers. First, at the request of the FBI, they changed the password on the Icloud account, breaking the connection, (if any), to the phone.

      Then they released the apartment and allowed the drooling hordes to rampage through the place. When Apple was contacted, they suggested taking the phone to a trusted site, (Such as the terrorists home), and forcing a backup.

      Oops!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:48am

      Re: Not Quite the Only Reason

      An internal FBI screw-up is certainly a more benign explanation, albeit it means we're continuing to shamble our way into total-police-state territory. (We shamble a lot.)

      Incidentally, your Wired Magazine link is inaccessible to those of us who use ad-blockers. We need a new category of behind paywall: didn't read.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rob, 22 Feb 2016 @ 4:18pm

        Re: Re: Not Quite the Only Reason

        It is not just ad blockers that renders Wired content inaccessible, blocking tracking cookies also mean you can't access Wired content.

        I have no ad blockers installed but I do block tracking cookies ... so I can't access Wired.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 23 Feb 2016 @ 6:55am

        Re: Re: Not Quite the Only Reason

        "Wired Magazine link is inaccessible to those of us who use ad-blockers."

        Which is why I no longer read Wired.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Angrywebmaster, 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:27am

    Opposition to the FBI crossing many lines

    I've been following this over the weekend, and it's interesting to see that both the Barking Moonbats and the Ultra Conservative Wingnuts are generally in agreement on this case.

    Both sides generally are opposed to forcing Apple to break their encryption.

    What I've been seeing are the known Statists, (Those who think the state/Federal Government's needs come first), on both sides saying Apple should be forced to break the system, and also that all encryption used by non-government entities should be banned or at least have a backdoor in it.

    There may be hope for us yet. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 1:42pm

      Re: Opposition to the FBI crossing many lines

      "There may be hope for us yet. :)"

      Just because people are finally in agreement for once means nothing.

      We still have yet to show if we will do anything when the government tells us all to "take a fucking hike, we are the government and we need to just exactly shut the fuck up and be good subservient serfs instead."

      Whatever, this nation is falling and a lot of people have stuck their fucking head in the dirt. History, yet again, is repeating itself!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2016 @ 5:20am

      Re: Opposition to the FBI crossing many lines

      “Moonbat” as in Newt Gingrich ?? I guess he does bark a bit.

      So Newt agrees with the Ultra Conservative Wingnuts,
      good to know.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:49am

    Perception: The phone contains a file called name_address_phone_number_mugshot_of_every_ISIS_member.txt

    Reality: The phone contains a few pictures of cats who, no, cannot has the cheezeburger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bt Garner (profile), 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:51am

    I find it ironic that Apple is doing a better job at defending my constitutional rights than my government is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2016 @ 5:22am

      Re:

      However - that does not mean that Apple should run for office, even if Apple is a person.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 24 Feb 2016 @ 2:03am

      Re:

      Uh, the Bill of Rights spells out rights the people have against their government. Why would your government be interested in defending them?

      The government is sworn to heed them, not love them. If they step over the line, it's the job of the citizens and the courts and the press to put them back in place and remind them of the oaths they took.

      And the citizens and the courts and the press are, overall, doing an abysmal job in the U.S., letting the government run loose and wild.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Michael Long (profile), 22 Feb 2016 @ 12:21pm

    Overreach

    Apple's stance, and the real question, is whether or that this is a lawful request.

    A court can issue a warrant to search my premises. They could, potentially, hire someone to attempt to break into my safe. But they don't have the right to go to the manufacturer of that safe and require them to build a device that lets someone else crack the safe they can't figure out how to crack otherwise.

    That's judicial overreach.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 12:47pm

      Re: Overreach

      Someone needs to tell the judge. I have this feeling that some more stuff needs to happen before an appeals court can get involved.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Overreach

      Sadly not a single fucking news outlet I have even read about this on gets that.

      I am trying to remember if even TechDirt here is actually getting that and if so, even trying to get that message out there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Whatever (profile), 22 Feb 2016 @ 6:10pm

        Re: Re: Overreach

        Not sure that it's an overreach. Apple isn't being told to create a backdoor (no matter what the narrative is that is being pushed), they are being told to issue a specific update for this phone which basically removes a couple of things that blocks the door. By doing so the government will still have to use a brute force hack to try to access the phone.

        It's like the court ordering you to dismantle a bookshelf in front of a locked door. They aren't telling you to unlock the door, just the remove the restrictions that make it so police cannot access the door.

        Don't fall for the funky narratives that are out there. Trying to pin every police action to a massive conspiracy theory is, well, Alex Jones level silly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 6:31pm

          Re: Re: Re: Overreach

          Dear waste of air!

          I work in technology and I also develop code.

          THEY ARE TRYING TO DIRECTLY COURT ORDER APPLY INTO CREATING A MOTHERFUCKING BACK DAMN DOOR!

          This is not a narrative fuck up, fuck around or fuck about. It is just a fact! This is not just over reach, it is tyranny! And no you fucktard, this is no where near like a court ordering someone to dismantle a bookshelf in front of a locked door.

          If Apple did their fucking job right in the first place they should not even have the ability to easily crack their own encryption. If they are able to develop a version of iOS capable of it, then their encryption was a house of fucking cards to begin with! Any decent quality encryption for a mobile device should have an IC which is a set only encryption key that performs a MITM decipher of data being extracted from a data source paired with a valid software key. This would prevent the key from ever being discovered without some damn fancy methods of lifting it from the IC itself. At best... the Apple fucks should only be able to provide 1/2 of the key, but never all of it.

          There are tons of open source encryption systems out there where you can access the source code... why don't you go an hack the fucker yourself? It is like dismantling a bookshelf after all...

          You are a fucking moron! And apparently so is Apple for fucking weak ass encryption in the first place!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Whatever (profile), 22 Feb 2016 @ 7:30pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Overreach

            There is no back door, please read more carefully.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Ninja (profile), 23 Feb 2016 @ 3:43am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Overreach

              There is, please read more carefully. Leaving a very weak spot on purpose on the back wall is akin to leaving a door. It's just that instead of a key you have to use a hammer. It is still an easy way in.

              Stop spewing your bullshit.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2016 @ 5:24am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Overreach

              Backdoor is already in place, some just do not understand.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 11:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Overreach

            I don't know why you're ranting about the key. They're not even trying to get the encryption key. They're trying to get the passcode.

            The passcode can't be some 128 character sequence. That would cause users to defeat the security themselves - they'd write the thing down because they wouldn't be able to memorize it, and they'd avoid locking the phone to avoid all that typing. It has to be something the user can reasonably memorize and type, and since that easily memorized sequence must be able to unlock the phone, it can be attacked.

            I suppose they should allow more digits and just let the user decide where the tradeoff between security and convenience is, rather than relying on the software to only allow 10 attempts.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anon, 22 Feb 2016 @ 9:25pm

          Re: Re: Re: Overreach

          As the commentator said on Don Lemon's CN show tonight - the state of NY alone has 150 iPhones in evidence just waiting to be decrypted - and this case will give them a precedent. Of course it's the thin edge of the wedge. If it can be done for one, it can be done for anyone.

          And we haven't seen any actual proof that there is real evidence on there - just wild speculation, "they *might* have used this for..."

          The world has to understand, if we can decrypt terrorists' iPhones (technically, a couple going postal, not a terrorist attack) then the same technology will allow us to see Jennifer Lawrence nude. I'm sure nobody wants that... :)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          gyaj, 23 Feb 2016 @ 4:09am

          Re: Re: Re: Overreach

          Well, that "bookshelf" is part of the "lock" to the door....

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 12:30pm

    Chain of Custody. Does the FBI honestly believe they can convince a Jury that the data that 'MAY' come off this phone if special code were to be installed, be valid and untouched by the government? I would think a defence lawyer would have a field day with this...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 12:35pm

    i think the fbi should call...

    Samsung. There's a chance the "terrorists" (I use quotes because I think they were just fecal imbibing duckhead butthats with an axe to grind and not affiliated with actual terrorists, since they had no political agenda that we've been shown (yes i SFW'd that for you)) had a smart tv with a voice command feature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 12:53pm

    "...had a smart tv with a voice command feature."
    And nobody has everything they said in their TV room recorded? Maybe the FBI should go after whomever made that TV and the marketing groups that collect that info rather than Apple.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anomynuos Crowad, 22 Feb 2016 @ 1:06pm

    but how will they bring him back from the dead to prosecute him if they have no evidence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    william (profile), 22 Feb 2016 @ 1:23pm

    I've said before that FBI knows this is a slippery slope, and they can't wait get to the bottom of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 2:41pm

    Sounds like a new Geico commercial in the making...

    "If you're the FBI, you lie. It's what you do..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 3:03pm

    Thank you for keeping me from wasting the time to click on the link. Like you, I would not have removed the adblocker over an article. The few minutes reading that article will not replace the time having to be spent fixing malvertising when ever it rares it's ugly head. Since the advertising industry refuses to clean up it's act, all ads are suspect and I am not willing to take the chance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 22 Feb 2016 @ 4:16pm

    FBI Precedent is to Abuse the Law Early and Often

    No, The FBI Does Not 'Need' The Info On Farook's iPhone; This Is Entirely About The Precedent


    To better understand how the FBI and J. Edgar Comey would exploit this new precedent a person only need examine FBI abuses of National Security Letters under the USA PATRIOT Act.

    The paragraph below was excerpted from EFF:

    Peekaboo, I See You: Government Authority Intended for Terrorism is Used for Other Purposes

    October 26, 2014 | By Mark Jaycox

    Second, the uses: Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/10/peekaboo-i-see-you-government-uses-authority-meant-te rrorism-other-uses

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2016 @ 6:37pm

      Re: FBI Precedent is to Abuse the Law Early and Often

      I wished the news companies would post a link to things like this with every government attempt to wrest liberty from the people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2016 @ 5:26am

    Since Apple is a person, are they offered a public defender?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2016 @ 10:33am

    Other things the FBI needs.

    And, since much of the planning for this attack must have happened between Farook and Malik in their home, the FBI is never going to know what they said to each other as they sat around the kitchen table, or on the sofa, or in bed.

    Which is why the FBI also *needs* video cameras in everyone's home.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Justme, 23 Feb 2016 @ 11:03am

      Re: Other things the FBI needs.

      I have made the case that because car's are used to commit bank robberies, and more people die during bank robberies then do terrorist attacks, then they need a bug every car for our own safety.

      But now, I think Comey can just suck a fart out of my a##!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 23 Feb 2016 @ 1:56pm

    Honestly, the only reason that the FBI wants to force Apple to create the special operating system for this particular phone is the precedent that it can go to court and force a company to build special hacking tools to remove security features from customers. That's a big deal. The information on the phone is almost certainly not a big deal at all.

    My friend would say that the FBI absolutely should be able to force companies to build special hacking tools to get into encrypted devices. After all, it's their job to keep us safe and that takes precedence over everything else...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 24 Feb 2016 @ 2:08am

      Re:

      After all, it's their job to keep us safe and that takes precedence over everything else...

      They could just start randomly shooting people whenever there are more than 5 per acre.

      Crowded people get aggressive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 10:53am

    Called SD cards dummie n yea have lots of info

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Math Is Not A Crime
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

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