Four days ago (28/03) the Department of Justice dropped the case between Apple and the FBI, Apple had finally won the battle against the FBI in what had been one of the most heated debates in technology for a long time, or had they?
The FBI announced that they had successfully, most likely with the help of Israeli company Cellebrite, unlocked the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooter. Hardly a win for Apple, the FBI had circumvented Apple altogether and gained access to the phone through a third party. The FBI now has the power, through this method, to unlock any iPhone that is older than the iPhone 6 (iPhone 5s and below) they wish and have already agreed to help unlock two more Apple devices in relation to the Arkansas murder trial.
This leaves the question, if the FBI already had contact with a technology company who could unlock the phone before hand, why did they launch a case against Apple? This specific case against Apple lasted over one month and created a lot of controversy in the technology industry, all of which could have been avoided if the FBI had gone straight to Cellebrite to get the phone unlocked. The reason the FBI launched the case was to try and compel Apple to back down and ultimately, set a precedent for the rest of the industry. Had Apple not put up a valiant fight against the FBI, it could have led to the FBI soon gaining access to many more of the smartphones on the market with relative ease.
As Apple refused to step down, the case was not a total failure for Apple and the rest of the technology community. In 2015 and 2016 Apple received 11 orders similar to this case, however, this is the first case that had been put in the limelight by the media. Through the ongoing controversy of the case, Apple has been able to shed light on the issue of privacy to the masses who are now able to see the bad intents of the FBI and risk this has on their digital freedom and privacy in an ever changing world. Apple has brought together all of the big technology companies, such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google, to stand up against the FBI and support the privacy of their customers. I think it’s really important that these issues are discussed and explored by everyone now rather than in the years to come when people realise their personal data has been accessed by a malicious organisation. Amnesty International have recently declared that encryption is a human rights issue and it’s key that everyone is informed of the risks associated with encryption.
“In the digital age, access to and use of encryption is an enabler of the right to privacy. Because encryption can protect communications from spying, it can help people share their opinion with others without reprisals, access information on the web and organize with others against injustice. Encryption is therefore also an enabler of the rights to freedom of expression, information and opinion, and also has an impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and other human rights. Encryption is a particularly critical tool for human rights defenders, activists and journalists, all of whom rely on it with increasing frequency to protect their security and that of others against unlawful surveillance.” – Amnesty International
Although the FBI are now able to unlock any Apple device they wish, this may not be the case forever. Soon after the FBI announced they had unlocked the phone, Apple turned the tables demanding that the FBI tell Apple how they managed to unlock the iPhone. As Apple have said in the past and continue to say this day, they are dedicated to protecting the freedoms and liberties of their customers by ensuring they have the highest levels of privacy. Apple will continue to ensure that their devices are as secure as possible and will always try and stop any third party from being able to exploit flaws in the Operating System of their devices in order to unlock them. This being said, it is highly unlikely that the FBI will reveal anything to Apple considering they have been at each other’s throats in court for the past month – Apple will have to find out for themselves.
At this point there is the possibility of a leak, much like Edward Snowden did in 2013, of the methods used by Cellebrite to gain access to Apple devices. Through the leaks by Edward Snowden, Apple was able to see the flaws in their devices that the National Security Agency were abusing and quickly fix them as part of their efforts to increase the security of their devices.
The closure of the Apple vs. FBI case has left a very bittersweet ending for both parties. Whilst the FBI failed in trying to force Apple to back down and compromise the security of their users, in the process creating a lot of controversy against such actions in the industry, they did ultimately gain access to the phone. Even though in the short term the FBI may have been successful, Apple won’t be backing down now and it’s almost certain that Apple will do all they can to stop the FBI and other organisations with the same intent.
Edit (07/04/2016): this post has been updated to reflect new information released by the FBI about their methods used to unlock the device.
Read the previous article on the necessity for Apple to stand up to the FBI: https://pertinentproblems.com/2016/02/26/why-apple-has-to-stand-up-to-the-fbi/