Apple’s impasse

Federal courts order Apple to develop encryption defeating operating system; Apple refuses

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Courtesy photo

The San Bernardino killers left one parting gift that could turn into the gift that keeps on giving: the potential for expanded police surveillance powers.

As reported by AP, The Federal District Court of the District of Central California ordered Apple last Wednesday to create a version of their iOS operating system that will disable key features of the built in encryption for a work-issued iPhone that was in the possession of one of the killers, Syed Rizwan Farook. The F.B.I. wants the ability to hack the phone by brute force, trying potentially millions of different password combinations to open the phone for whatever information it may or may not carry.

Right now, federal investigators are prevented from using the brute force method because the iPhone’s software may erase the data on the phone if too many incorrect password inputs are attempted.

And make no mistake, the phone really isn’t important. The argument in Apple CEO Tim Cook’s eyes, along with the federal government’s for that matter, isn’t over the phone. Apple has complied with every other attempt to unlock the phone and also providing technical support to assist federal investigators.

To law enforcement, this case is over something much wider and more compelling. The U.S. Justice Department, the F.B.I. and law enforcement across the country see the potential for this occasion. A way to defeat security on every device that comes into their collective possession.

The killers smashed their personal phones beyond any kind of recovery, which probably held much more important and valuable information than a county-issued work phone that Farook didn’t bother to destroy. Farook and his wife went to great lengths to hide or destroy a hard drive from a personal computer, and the F.B.I. has been diving every day in a near-by lake in San Bernardino in hopes of recovering the drive.

If anything, the killers were thorough. So why the focus on this phone?

Desperation is a stinky cologne, and the Justice Department reeks of it. They’re hoping to gain public support in their effort to force Apple to comply with an order which could potentially put every iPhone user at risk for data theft in the future.

The White House and the Justice Department argue they’re not ordering Apple to build a backdoor to undermine security on other devices, and have said only this device will receive the software so the encryption can be defeated.

Cook’s stand is the correct one. He has argued that a backdoor is precisely what the federal government wants his company to build, equating it to a “master key” with the potential to unlock millions of devices, and knowledge of the method to defeat the encryption on mobile devices will be nearly impossible to keep secret once developed.

John McAfee, founder and owner of McAfee, the computer anti-virus and security software company, has offered to make an attempt at opening the iPhone at no expense to the federal government. McAfee is one of the Silicon Valley giants to stand with Apple’s Cook, along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who could just as easily be facing the same issue if it had been an Android device in the killer’s possession rather than an iPhone.

Donald Trump has voiced his loud and hasty opinion that Apple comply and build the software for the F.B.I. Trump has shown his true colors numerous times on the campaign trail, and this is his latest example. He’s a statist authoritarian.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., has stated he believes the order to be “unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

We live in a society at a crossroads in history, especially since Sept. 11, 2001: we’re either a society that stands bravely for the freedoms passed to us by the framers of the United States of America, or we cower as liberty slips away to an ever expanding surveillance police state driven by fear and blind submission to false security.

Update: Since publishing, it has come to light the F.B.I. in the first 24 hours of the investigation authorized a password change connected to Farook’s cloud account. However, changing the password on the account had the effect of the F.B.I. being unable to complete any back-up of the data on the iPhone. This is what has prompted the battle for forcing Apple to build a backdoor to their iOS operating system: the F.B.I.’s incompetence while handling their own evidence, not Apple’s refusal to help.