All iphones have now been broken into. Public no longer trusts “gadgets”!
Apple has claimed the government’s request for assistance would potentially harm all its users. | AP Photo
Feds gain postponement of iPhone hearing
The Justice Department does not need Apple’s help any longer.
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Citing a new possible way to access a locked iPhone used by a shooter in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the Justice Department on Monday convinced a federal court to cancel a Tuesday hearing on whether Apple should be forced to help the FBI break into the device.
Government lawyers had insisted for months they needed Apple to write special software so the FBI could bypass security features on the iPhone being used by the San Bernardino shooter, Syed Farook, and obtain what could be critical information for their ongoing terrorism investigation.
But the Justice Department unexpectedly told the court just hours before a scheduled hearing that it may not need Apple’s assistance after all.
“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone,” federal prosecutors said in a filing Monday afternoon. “Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple Inc. (‘Apple’) set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case.”
For the moment, the DOJ’s move hits the pause button on a case that has pitted Washington against Silicon Valley in a fierce debate over the role tech companies should play in terrorism investigations. The Justice Department now has until April 5 to test its prospective technical fix, which law enforcement sources, speaking with reporters on Monday, repeatedly declined to detail.
Apple did not immediately comment on the decision. Earlier Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook affirmed his company’s intent to fight this and other cases where the government seeks greater access to digital data. As he unveiled his company’s latest iPhone, Cook pledged on stage in San Francisco that Apple would not “shirk from [its] responsibility” to protect its users.
In the San Bernardino case, the Justice Department had asked a federal magistrate in February to require Apple to write software to help unlock Farook’s password-protected iPhone. Apple doesn’t retain a copy of device passwords, and the iPhone is programmed to erase itself after too many failed attempts to unlock it. The DOJ wanted the company craft special software to remove the restriction.
Federal Magistrate Sheri Pym initially sided with the DOJ in February, drawing a sharp rebuke from Apple, which lambasted the government’s request as a digital “backdoor.” In the eyes of the tech company, a win for the government would set a dangerous legal precedent, allowing the Justice Department unparalleled access to all digital communications in other major national security investigations. Apple argued Congress never gave law enforcement such power, and doing so now would only encourage foreign governments to seek the same access in the future.
The legal battle — marked by bitter rhetoric from both sides — quickly encompassed much of Silicon Valley. Top firms like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft filed legal briefs in support of Apple, urging the judge not to embolden the FBI as it seeks greater access to data it can’t currently intercept or decipher — a problem its director has called “going dark.” Both Apple and the Justice Department seemed to indicate they would continue fighting the case for as long as necessary, setting up an historic war between Washington and Silicon Valley.
In its filings with the court, the Justice Department initially argued it had no option to obtain the data other than ask for Apple’s help — even as security experts suggested the FBI might have been able to extract the phone’s contents by other means. FBI Director James Comey was grilled about a potential technical solution by lawmakers like Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
The DOJ did not specify in its court filing Monday, however, exactly how it planned to obtain the contents of the San Bernardino device. Nor did law enforcement officials, speaking to reporters on background, explain who their “outside source” was or how the FBI got in contact with them.
“As a result of these efforts, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI this past weekend a possible method for unlocking the phone,” a DOJ spokeswoman said in a statement. “We must first test this method to ensure that it doesn’t destroy the data on the phone, but we remain cautiously optimistic. That is why we asked the court to give us some time to explore this option.”
Beyond surveillance: The end of Apple
An Apple loss in the San Bernardino encryption case risks creating a world in which we can no longer trust the gadgets that track how we drive, when we’re home and whether the door is locked
Danny Yadron in San Francisco
This is how a former White House technologist envisions a future in which Apple loses its privacy battle with the US government.
The year is 2026. You get in your new Tesla for a milk run. You place your fingertip on the door handle, the door unlocks, and the car knows it’s you as you step inside because it read your fingerprint.
The car, on its own, pulls out of the garage while you scroll through live streams broadcast by your friends on whatever app has succeeded Instagram.
The doors lock. The car passes the convenience store and its dairy aisle. Instead, it makes two lefts then a right before pulling up to the local police station. The cops are waiting outside. They got a judge to make Tesla update your car’s self-driving software to lock the doors and deliver you to the local precinct. You looked like a guy caught on surveillance camera and the police had a few questions.
That fight officially begins on Tuesday when Apple and government lawyers meet for the first time in a southern California federal court.
Soltani has some grounding here. He won a Pulitzer prize for helping the Washington Post sort through documents leaked by Edward Snowden and has published papers on privacy technology through Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard. He isn’t just a guy who watched too many dystopian films.
He and others make a compelling case that the Apple fight isn’t really about surveillance, or encryption, or who else may have known about the horrific killing of 14 people in a southern California office complex on 2 December.
It’s about who can manipulate the 1s and 0s that control our ever-increasing number of devices that track how we drive, when we’re home and if the door is locked.
“We already have a hard enough time trusting our technology and understanding what it’s doing,” says Soltani, who worked on regulation for the Federal Trade Commission with a brief stint at the White House. “What the government is asking Apple to do in some way is to further undermine that.”
Consumers rationally enough gave up this agency when they allowed Microsoft to push automatic Windows updates or Apple to upload a U2 album on to every iPhone. The Apple case will decide if that power stops with a digital product’s maker, or if it can extend to the federal government. Washington, though it would never say it this way, effectively wants Apple to make its programmers agents of the state in its San Bernardino investigation.
If the FBI wins, Apple would fool gunman Syed Farook’s work iPhone into accepting a benign-seeming software update, the kind Apple regularly ships out to the nearly 1bn iPhones it has sold since 2007. But in this case, the software sent by Apple would disable certain iPhone security measures to make it easier for the government to guess the phone’s four-digit passcode. Because of Apple’s security features, only Apple can push such a system tweak to one of the phones.
As the government acknowledges, courts operate on precedent. So if the FBI wins this time, it means it is more likely to win the next.
This year, a favorable ruling could decide whether laptop cameras can be conscripted as spies or smartphones become permanent homing beacons.
In a year or two, the same ruling may have laid the groundwork for whether your car becomes your police van or your home becomes your holding cell.
Obviously, predicting the ripple effects of a court case that hasn’t started is perilous. The courts, for instance, could rule against Apple in this extraordinary case but decide to be silent on the broader questions about control of technology. Or Congress could find a middle ground with an update to woefully outdated wiretap law written for a pre-smartphone era.
Apple could very well win in a sweeping supreme court decision that puts computer code outside the reach of law enforcement officials. Or it could persuade Congress to craft new law protecting tech companies from law enforcement. That of course would raise its own issues about the power of private corporations.
One current federal prosecutor predicted a lot of “bad guys are better off and we only get the dumb ones”. Stewart Baker, a former attorney for the National Security Agency, took Soltani’s Tesla warning to the opposite extreme.
The thing about the world where the FBI doesn’t miss anything, that’s a world where the FBI knows everything
Moxie Marlinspike, developer
Baker, now a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, asked: “Would you rather live in a world where the Tesla could be packed full of explosives, programmed to drive through the fence and into the White House” and the secret service unable to get Tesla to remotely stop the vehicle?
Either way, Americans will have to decide if they are OK with technology creating walled-off spaces. That can be now, or it can be the next time Silicon Valley gets in the way of a criminal investigation.
This is something both Apple and the government agree on.
As Apple lawyers recently wrote, the case pits “what law enforcement officials want against the widespread repercussions and serious risks their demands would create”. Or as James Comey, director of the FBI, told Congress in March, the case is about “this collision between public safety and privacy”.
Public opinion polls commissioned by Pew and the Wall Street Journal/NBC News show that Americans narrowly back the FBI over the iPhone maker. The problem for Apple and its backers is that consumers tend to put perceived near-term risks, such as mass shootings, over theoretical ones – like Big Brother.
Science fiction writer Bruce Bethke, who coined the term “cyberpunk” in 1983, doesn’t think like a typical consumer.
“Does your water meter report you to the local public utilities commission if you’re illegally watering your lawn on a Tuesday? It will. Does your cellphone call your health insurance provider if its GPS coordinates indicate you’ve just entered a tobacco shop? It will,” he wrote in an email. “Does your toilet report you to your doctor when you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet? It will.”
Nick Harkaway, the British author of The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World and currently writing a novel based on a surveillance state, said that if Apple loses, “Everything connected in your life now belongs to law enforcement: your phone, your satnav, your DVR,” or digital video recorders for TV reruns.
Such views aren’t just fantasies created by authors.
At a recent security conference in San Francisco, several leading cryptographers – the programmers and mathematicians who use complicated algorithms to make encryption work – pondered the deeper meanings of the Apple case.
Moxie Marlinspike, the developer behind the secure messaging app Signal and the encryption protocol used by Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger, worried that if Apple loses, the government could compel the company to alter programs downloaded from the App Store, such as his own, to be more surveillance friendly.
“The thing about the world where the FBI doesn’t miss anything, that’s a world where the FBI knows everything,” he said. He for instance noted that now accepted social movements – such as gay rights and the movement to end slavery – began as illegal forms of civil disobedience. If keeping a secret isn’t possible, these movements can’t start, he reasoned. “I think it should be possible to break the law,” he said.
On stage, Whitfield Diffie, the godfather of modern encryption donning a suit and long, groomed white hair, chimed in sternly. “In a tyranny you build mechanisms to deny people opportunities to take control of their actions,” he said.
Barack Obama and other Washington officials obviously aren’t proclaiming they want to create a surveillance state. The world they describe is one of balance. Consumers generally maintain digital privacy, but in times of duress, criminal suspects might lose theirs.
But where they draw that line becomes less clear as Americans connect more and more of their devices – their refrigerators, their thermostats, their cars, their door locks – to the internet. James Clapper, America’s top spy, told the US Senate in February that all of these things become inviting targets for intelligence agencies for “identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment”.
Even if Americans decide that’s a future they want, an Apple loss nevertheless could create a world in which consumers may no longer be able to trust the gadgets they buy are working for them.
“That’s something we’re going to have to get right as we embed these systems into our lives,” Soltani, the former tech regulator, said. “Otherwise we go back to this world where we keeping going, ‘What the hell is this thing doing?’”
Soltani, who left the White House in February, is taking some time off from government and plans to travel the untamed west coast in a camping van he alone controls.
He will bring his smartphone.
Snowden Warns World Against Trusting Privacy to Tech Giants Like Microsoft
© REUTERS/ Svein Ove Ekornesvaag/NTB Scanpix/Files
The whistleblower who exposed the totality of the America’s mass domestic surveillance program suggested that users should look to free and open source software to preserve their privacy.
On Saturday, NSA whistleblower spoke to the Free Software Foundation’s LibrePlanet2016 conference regarding free software, cybersecurity, and privacy. He joined the event through video conference from Russia. During the event, Snowden explained that he was able to release the secrets of America’s mass surveillance projects more securely by using free software.
© REUTERS/ Rhona Wise
The whistleblower praised Debian, Tails, and Tor observing that what he did in 2013 never could have happened without the help of free software. He also advocates that activists and journalists switch to free and open source software to secure their privacy against the omnipresent US surveillance state.
“I didn’t use Microsoft machines when I was in my operational phase, because I couldn’t trust them,” explained Snowden. He went on to say that he couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t a backdoor coded into the Microsoft products that would enable government surveillance.
In making this dour assessment of Microsoft, he noted that of the current tech giants, the company has been the most cooperative with the US government.
© AP Photo/ Michael Dwyer
He cited Microsoft founder Bill Gates calling on Apple to install a backdoor into the iPhone at the request of a federal court which opens millions of end users up to the danger of a growing mass surveillance program.
Snowden praised Apple’s fight with the FBI calling it an example of a corporation standing up for its users. Still, the whistleblower cautioned citizens against relying on multinational companies for transmissions that are intended to be secure.