24 Feb
2016

Shane Todhunter

By

So the FBI wants access to all your iPhone data right..

Well not exactly. Let’s step through it.

In tangible terms they are asking a company that makes a fireproof box with a lock on it to build them a tool that would allow them to try to make a copy of the key to that box. They aren’t even asking for the master key but a way to make a key for a specific device by electronically guessing all the possible permutations of the ridges and valleys on that key.

What Apple is saying is if we build that device to make a key it will compromise the security of everyone with an iPhone. This just is not accurate in my estimation.

The FBI would have a warrant in this case for everything this guy had, including his phone. They just don’t have a way to see the data on the phone. In the case of the fireproof box they could just blow the sucker open. They just need Apple’s help to build the tool.

One thing to expand upon at this point that before I wrote this I was unaware of. If you reinstall an OS on an Apple device, unless it is connected to the computer with which you last synced your device, the data will be erased and at present there is no way around this. This is a big reason why the FBI requires Apple’s help. If the FBI plays around too much, they could wipe the data forever.

Only those with the warrant are entitled to use the tool and this seems reasonable to me. The FBI is asking Apple to build a new version of its OS to install on an iPhone that would allow the FBI to bypass the login screen limitations (timeouts, number of tries etc.) and data wiping.  Unless I am missing something… As long as only the government has access to this version of iOS AND they have obtained the device in question legally by way of a warrant I am not sure I see this from Apple’s point of view.

So here is where I think Apple got it wrong. Tim Cook should have written a private letter to the FBI saying one thing. Apple is unaware of anyway to make this happen. A simple ‘we can’t do it’ would have sufficed. Instead a big long open letter to the world has opened Pandora’s Box, so to speak.

Now here is the tricky bit. Should Apple help the FBI? I would argue yes, safety trumps privacy in my estimation here but that’s just my opinion and Apple is clearly entitled to theirs. Should a US court be able to mandate Apple builds this tool for the FBI? Again this is a subjective question. Are they entitled by law in the US to compel this tool to be built. I think we will likely need the Supreme Court to weigh in on that one but here goes…

The FBI is using the All Writs Act of 1789 – Bare in mind I am no lawyer but basically, this reads as a ‘catchall’ the courts in the US can use to force compliance when no other legislation allows them to assert their jurisdiction. They have their mandate but no way to back it up so they use this ‘trump’ card (please pardon the pun). This Act is supposedly allowing the US government to make Apple build this tool for them in the interest of the FBI’s ability to do its job and assert its jurisdiction.

So back to the open letter. Complete guess here but this will go in front of another judge and the judge is going to ask this. How does building this OS for the FBI compromise any other device that is not lawfully in the possession of the FBI?

Apple has already answered this saying the FBI is asking for access to hundreds of other devices in other cases. So what Apple already admitted they have the technology or can build the technology to make this possible. The cat is already out of the bag.

In summary, my take. If the FBI has a warrant for the phone they have a warrant for the information on that phone. That warrant has already passed the sniff test in front of a judge and as I see it, if Apple is admitting they can grant this access but won’t, they are standing on a soapbox trying to change laws. They are entitled to do this, but it doesn’t change the facts or current law as it pertains to this case. So Apple coders brew a pot of coffee, stay up all night long and get this thing built already.

My two bits.