Nope, Apple still won’t help the FBI break into iPhones

Earlier this month, the news broke that the FBI had cracked the Apple iPhone encryption of the Royal Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three American sailors in a December 2019 attack at a U.S. naval base in Florida and found evidence linking him to the Islamist terrorist group al Qaeda.

Apple did not help the FBI break into that iPhone.

breaking into Apple iPhones: iPhone passcode lock screen
iPhone passcode lock screen

Stephen L. Carter for Bloomberg:

There are two important lessons in this week’s announcement that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has finally succeeded in cracking two mobile phones belonging to Mohammed Alshamrani, the aviation student who killed three people last December at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida.

The first lesson is that cracking an encrypted device takes time and effort even when the federal government brings all its resources to bear. The second is that Apple still refuses to build tools to make hacking its mobile devices easier…

That breaking into a locked mobile device takes time and effort is one of the few guarantees we have that the government will only rarely invest the resources needed to do it…

I’m told that behind closed doors, much of Silicon Valley thinks Apple is wrong to be so intransigent. Cooperation with law enforcement is routine among U.S. businesses; some techies see no reason for Apple to get a pass. Although I see the point, I continue to find the company’s position attractive. I’m left uneasy by the notion that privacy should be restricted because bad people might misuse it.

Still, the pressure has had its effect. Although Apple steadfastly refuses to build a back door into its mobile devices, earlier this year, the company abandoned plans to allow iOS users fully encrypt their iCloud data. Given that iCloud has an estimated 850 million users — and that the service is the only practical way to back up an iPhone — this is no small concession.

MacDailyNews Note: To back up your iPhone or iPad to your Mac instead of iCloud:

  1. Connect your device to your Mac.
    You can connect your device using a USB or USB-C cable or using a Wi-Fi connection. To turn on Wi-Fi syncing, see Sync content between your Mac and iPhone or iPad over Wi-Fi.

  2. In the Finder on your Mac, select the device in the Finder sidebar.

  3. Select General in the button bar.

  4. To select back up options, do any of the following:
    • Select the “Back up your most important data on your [device] to iCloud” button to store backup data on iCloud and not on your Mac.
    • Select the “Back up all of the data on your [device] to this Mac” to store backups on your Mac.
    • Select the ““Encrypt local backup” checkbox to encrypt your backup data and protect it with a password. To change your password later, click Change Password.

  5. Click Back Up Now.

My rather old-fashioned view is that privacy is less a “right” than a check on the power of the state. Government can’t regulate what it’s unaware of. That’s why I’m glad that even for the FBI, cracking a phone takes time and effort.

MacDailyNews Take: And, with each exploit Apple become aware of, the iPhone gets ever more difficult to crack!

Once again, a backdoor into iOS products would weaken national security, not strengthen it. Encryption is easily accessible and widely available to anyone who wants to use 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


  1. I appreciate Apples consistent drive to keep privacy.
    They don’t have a goal to profit from data.
    They fight for our privacy everyday.
    If they make a backdoor, someone would find it.

  2. If they build a back door I’ll stop using my phone for banking, paying bills, and buying things. I do that now trusting Apple will keep my info safe. Them and a vpn have so far done the trick of keeping me safe. Could not imagine banking on a different phone.

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