Though the FBI claimed for months it was only concerned with unlocking the iPhone of the suspected San Bernardino shooter in its legal battle with Apple, the bureau just agreed to help Arkansas prosecutors break into an iPhone and iPod belonging to two murder suspects.
“This case was never about one phone,” Evan Greer, campaign director for the digital rights group Fight for the Future, told Common Dreams on Thursday. “It was always about the FBI’s pursuit of a dangerous precedent that would have made us less safe, not more safe.”
There’s a bit of a mystery as to how the FBI is going to unlock the devices or why they even have to. Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland also didn’t tell the Associated Press why authorities need access to them.
Hiland said he could not discuss details of the murder case in Arkansas, but confirmed the FBI had agreed less than a day after the initial request.
“We always appreciate their cooperation and willingness to help their local law enforcement partners,” he said…
[ Defense attorney] Patrick Benca…confirmed that he was notified that the FBI had agreed to help unlock his client’s phone.
“We’re not concerned about anything on that phone,” Benca said.
It would be nice for authorities to say why they needed to get into the phone and iPod. iPods can receive iMessages (Apple’s messaging system) but they can’t receive general text messages. My guess is authorities believe there may be evidence on the phone which can lead them to more information on the murder case. But you’d think police and prosecutors would still have to go through proper legal channels (and let the defendants know what they wanted) before hacking into a phone for the information.
This is why the FBI’s ability to now hack into Apple products disturbs me. It’s no longer a “one-time hack,” like the FBI originally claimed, but a Pandora’s box is open. The FBI can now get into any Apple device it wants to. This means the rest of the government (NSA, CIA, DEA, etc) can too. So what happens when the government puts someone like you or me on the terrorist watch list and decides to start surveillance? I guess it means it can hack into anyone’s iPhone, iPad, or iPod to spy on them if they want. Do a secret warrant, a secret FISA court hearing, and the government’s promise of “good will” mean it’s okay because “national security!”?
Nope. Via Los Angeles Times:
Even the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator has acknowledged there are times when more people could be harmed by an unfixed security issue than helped by the government covertly using the loophole as part of an investigation.
A secretive White House-led procedure governs whether companies get notified of potential flaws.
Officials involved in the multi-agency deliberations — called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process — consider the risks and rewards of keeping flaws secret, according to federal records. They weigh whether the government could get the information in some other way and how likely it is someone else will discover the same vulnerability.
The Times’ report also points out the NSA may have taken advantage of security flaws for a couple years before making it public. This is the power and danger of living in the Internet age. The fact the government has been able to get access to certain things is disturbing, and at what point does the government decide to actually keep its power in check (a laughable notion, I know). This is the question we all need to ask ourselves about the power of government vs. freedom of the people. Yes, it makes sense for the government to want access to certain things if it may have been used in a crime. But “may have” and “definitely” are two different things and I’m not sure it’s worth giving authorities the power to get into my phone without my permission, unless they have probable cause and a warrant I can look at. The fact authorities don’t have to go to Apple anymore is very concerning and hopefully Apple will be able to figure out how the iPhone was hacked sooner, rather than later.