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The FBI gives its reasons for wanting an iPhone unlocked, but Apple is having none of it

The FBI director argues the order is for “the victims and justice” but Apple says it “threatens everyone’s civil liberties”.

Image: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

A COURT ORDER the US government requested to force Apple to unlock an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino shooting rampage is about “the victims and justice,” FBI Director James Comey said.

In his first public remarks since Apple CEO Tim Cook said he would fight the federal magistrate’s order, Comey said the Justice Department’s request is simply about gaining access to the locked phone.

“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” Comey said in a posting that appeared on the lawfareblog.com site late Sunday.

Investigators want to hack into an iPhone belonging to the late Syed Farook, a US citizen who along with his wife Tashfeen Malik went on a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people on 2 December.

Apple claims that cooperating with the FBI probe would undermine overall security for its devices.

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” Comey said. “It is about the victims and justice.”

According to Comey, the “particular legal issue is actually quite narrow… We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it”.

Apple Encryption Inactive Security Source: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The phone may or may not hold important clues. “But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead,” he wrote.

This case highlights the new technology that creates “tension between two values we all treasure: privacy and safety. That tension should not be resolved by corporations that sell stuff for a living”.

It also should not be resolved by the FBI, which investigates for a living. It should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before.

Finding “the right place, the right balance, will matter to every American for a very long time” said the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Both Cook and Comey have been invited to testify about encryption on Capitol Hill.

Not backing down

The order requested Apple to create a method that would allow the FBI to unlock an iPhone 5c through brute force. Normally, an iPhone only allows ten attempts before it wipes the phone’s data clean as a security measure, but the FBI wanted Apple to help it bypass this.

Apple originally responded by publishing a public letter last week explaining why it was not following the order, but it has now released an FAQ relating to the case and its reasons for not following the court order.

Under the question “what should happen from here?” the company suggests that the order should be dropped and a commission focusing on said issues should be formed.

We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands … and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.

Cook also sent out an internal email, published by Buzzfeed News, saying it would not be backing down and reiterating how it was more than just one case.

“This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government’s order we knew we had to speak out,” he said. “At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties”.

(Additional reporting by Quinton O’Reilly)

© – AFP 2016

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