The battle between Apple and FBI over unlocking an iPhone 5c came to an end on Monday, as the US Justice Department claimed that it has managed to unlock the device, which was used by one of the San Bernardino’s shooters. The Department of Justice withdrew its court case after FBI discovered a method to hack into the iPhone, without deleting its contents.
Apple, however, in a statement said that “the case should never have been brought” to court and that it objected to FBI’s demand from the beginning as it believed that it would set a ‘dangerous precedent’.
“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent,” Apple said in a statement that was issued after the case ended.
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The statement by Apple reads, “We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated. Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk. This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion.”
It was earlier reported that Israel’s Cellebrite, a provider of mobile forensic software, was helping the FBI in its attempt to unlock the iPhone. Tim Cook had earlier said that unlocking the iPhone by Apple would basically mean telling the engineers who’ve worked to ensure that the device is secure and encrypted, should now weaken those same protections.
Apple had resisted the court order as it demanded that the tech company create a special version of the iOS software to allow the FBI to use brute force to hack into the iPhone. The United States Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym has asked Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to investigators including the ability to an auto-erase function that gets activated when the wrong pin or password is entered for a fixed number of times.
The order also asked Apple to ensure that FBI could submit unlimited passcodes via a computer, a programme or whatever protocol they determine; and ensure that the Apple software doesn’t purposely add any additional delay between password attempts to unlock the device. Apple was also required to load a specific iOS recovery file on to the device so that FBI can recover the passcode.
For Apple, this software would have threatened and undermined the encryption they have worked hard on to ensure the safety of their customers.
Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi had called the court order as one that takes device security back in time. Federighi in an op-ed for the Washington Post wrote, “FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013.”
Apple had found support from other tech companies in Silicon Valley including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, WhatsApp, Facebook which had called the case as setting a dangerous precedent.
While Apple has averted the crisis for now it would seem, the debate on encryption vs law-enforcement is unlikely to end anytime soon.