U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that the FBI had cracked the iPhone encryption of the Royal Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three American sailors in a December attack at a U.S. naval base in Florida and found evidence linking him to the Islamist terrorist group al Qaeda.
The shooter, Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, was killed by law enforcement during the Dec. 6, 2019 attack.
He was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.
The Justice Department succeeded in unlocking the encryption on the shooter’s iPhone after Apple Inc declined to do so, Barr told reporters on a conference call.
Barr called on Congress to take action forcing Apple and other tech companies to help law enforcement agencies get through encryption during criminal investigations. “Apple’s decision has dangerous consequences,” Barr said. “Many of the technology companies that advocate most loudly for warrant-proof encryption … are at the same time willing to accommodate authoritarian regimes.”
MacDailyNews Take: Obviously, Barr, like Comey et al. before him who demanded Apple create an iPhone backdoor simply do not get it.
Encryption is binary; it’s either on or off. You cannot have both. You either have privacy via full encryption or you don’t by forcing back doors upon Apple or anybody else. It’s all or nothing. — MacDailyNews, March 8, 2017
There have been people that suggest that we should have a back door. But the reality is if you put a backdoor in, that back door’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, December 2015
This is not about this phone. This is about the future. And so I do see it as a precedent that should not be done in this country or in any country. This is about civil liberties and is about people’s abilities to protect themselves. If we take encryption away… the only people that would be affected are the good people, not the bad people. Apple doesn’t own encryption. Encryption is readily available in every country in the world, as a matter of fact, the U.S. government sponsors and funds encryption in many cases. And so, if we limit it in some way, the people that we’ll hurt are the good people, not the bad people; they will find it anyway. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, February 2016
“If technology companies like Apple are willing to oblige the demands of authoritarian regimes, they certainly have no excuse for failing to co-operate with rule-of-law nations that respect civil liberties and privacy rights, and have judicial safeguards,” said Mr Barr during a virtual news conference.
The attorney-general cited media reports that Apple had complied with demands by China and Russia to open data centers in those countries “to enable bulk surveillance by those governments”.
He also accused Apple of “facilitating censorship and oppression” by disabling features and removing applications used by pro-democracy advocates. Last year, Apple pulled an app used by Hong Kong protesters to track police movements.
“Many of the companies that advocate most loudly for warrant-proof encryption in the name of privacy rights are at the same time willing to accommodate authoritarian regimes when it suits their business interests,” said Mr Barr.
MacDailyNews Take: Barr’s points here highlight the horrible tightrope Apple CEO Tim Cook has to try to walk. Every time Apple appeases China, for example, they undercut their privacy stance elsewhere around the world, providing ammunition for those who’d like to destroy privacy everywhere.
That said, as always, it depends on where you live. Apple follows local laws. If you live in an authoritarian dictatorship with one-party rule, you do not have the same rights as those who live in a constitutional republic, for example.
Regardless, Barr is using a false equivalency, as iPhones remain protected by passcode and/or biometrics the same everywhere. Apple removing apps that are deemed locally illegal or using local servers for iCloud data are not the same as destroying iPhone encryption. And, by the way, the FBI haven’t always been “the good guys.” If you give them a backdoor that magically doesn’t leak out (impossible), the next J. Edgar Hoover is sure to abuse it every which way possible.
Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, said on Monday that this time no third party was able to provide a technique to unlock the phones. He did not detail the methods the FBI devised but said “the technique that we developed is not a fix for our broader Apple problem — it’s of pretty limited application”.
“We received effectively no help from Apple,” he added.
MacDailyNews Take: Good. May it always be so that the get no help from Apple in cracking a locked iPhone. Apple, of course does help law enforcement in myriad ways which are detailed here.