FBI vs Apple – iPhone Security

The struggle over encryption and device security continues.  This time it’s more visceral, representing the most relevant case on the side of criminal justice yet.  In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, the FBI is seeking to gain access to an iPhone discovered in the vehicle where the shooters made their last stand with law enforcement.  The FBI is hoping to find additional evidence on this phone – phone records, emails, texts, etc. that might lead them to information on other conspirators of the attack, other potential targets and attackers, and anything else that might lead to prosecuting those involved in this attack or stopping future attacks.  Gaining access to this information is obviously extremely important.

The problem – the phone is locked with a passcode, and the FBI doesn’t know what that code is. While trial and error is certainly a viable methodology, Apple’s architecture limits passwords attempts to 10.  Once the tenth attempt fails, the iPhone will go into a sort of self-destruct, wiping all data from the device.  The FBI needs help, and they are seeking it from Apple.  Apple declined requests and is now being compelled by a federal judge who ordered Apple to assist the FBI in gaining access to the phone.  Apple is fighting the order – but why?

First of all, Apple states there is no ‘back door’ into their system that will allow them to bypass a security code.  On principal, they decided not to create one since if it exists, it can be exploited.  Based upon this, the FBI has requested that Apple at least disable the 10 attempt fail safe in the iOS programming, allowing the FBI to press on with many more attempts to crack the code.  Apple continues to refuse, again citing the potential for someone with criminal intent exploiting this.  Essentially, Apple feels they are protecting their customers from criminal acts and loss of personal information.  The CEO of Google recently voiced support for Apple’s stand.

This debate poses two strong arguments, each pulling at our values.  On one side, we need to support the efforts of law enforcement to prevent, protect, and prosecute.  The evidence gathered from a situation such as this can potentially lead to finding co-conspirators in these horrible shootings, and can potentially stop other crimes from occurring.

On the other side, there is also concern over preventing future criminal activity by those who would steal information.  Keeping in mind that what we have on our phones is not only a browsing history and Disney World selfies, but also private information such as bank accounts, and even access to business information; the theft of which can be devastating to individuals and entire organizations.

There are valid arguments on both sides, and consequences to action and inaction all around, with implications much broader than this one case.  I’m interested in seeing how this shakes out.

What are your thoughts?

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

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