Last week, the DOJ’s counsel sent a letter to Apple asking for its assistance cracking open two phones recovered from the shooter at the Pensacola Naval Air Base. Apple replied it had already provided assistance by giving the FBI everything it could recover from the shooter’s Apple accounts. The company also made it clear it would not attempt to break the encryption on the phones.
This sounded like a warning shot from the DOJ — one issued before the commencement of litigation. No formal request for assistance has been made in court yet, but the head of the DOJ has decided to apply additional pressure. Attorney General William Barr’s view appears to be that if the FBI has a warrant, Apple has to let it come in. Otherwise, bad things will happen. He also accused Apple of not being helpful enough.
“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence,” Mr. Barr said, calling on technology companies to find a solution and complaining that Apple had provided no “substantive assistance.”
Going beyond that, Barr said lives are on the line and tech companies unwilling to punch holes in the encryption they use to protect their customers are just adding to the body count.
“We don’t want to get into a world where we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance,” he said. “We should be able to get in when we have a warrant that establishes that criminal activity is underway.”
When time is of the essence, the FBI is only weeks away.
We responded to each request promptly, often within hours, sharing information with FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators. In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had.
The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance — a month after the attack occurred. Only then did we learn about the existence of a second iPhone associated with the investigation and the FBI’s inability to access either iPhone. It was not until January 8th that we received a subpoena for information related to the second iPhone, which we responded to within hours. Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.
That’s from Apple’s statement on the matter, as reported by Scott Lucas for Buzzfeed. AG Barr is complaining about months and years, and it’s the FBI that waited until a month after the shooting to even inform Apple there was a second iPhone involved.
It could be the DOJ knew Apple would reject its advances. It could also be the FBI was exploring other options during the last 30 days. Even if this is the case, it’s completely disingenuous for Bill Barr to give the impression Apple has been uncooperative and is holding up this investigation. Apple helped immediately and turned over “many gigabytes” of data and communications to the FBI.
Just because the feds can’t unlock the phones does not mean Apple isn’t helping. It just won’t do the one thing the FBI wants it to do: weaken a security measure that keeps millions of iPhone users, who’ve never committed a crime, safe. Apple’s statement drives this point home.
We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys. Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.
If Barr is serious about the safety and security of the nation he’s sworn to protect, he’ll leave encryption the fuck alone. But Barr isn’t serious about this. He wants the DOJ to get what he wants, no matter how much collateral damage it causes. Sacrificing security for minimal gains in law enforcement efficiency is the name of the game. Unfortunately, it’s a game we all lose if the DOJ gets its way.
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