The conflict between Apple and the FBI, which unfolded over the last two months, was characterized by blurred lines of morality. The FBI was trying to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooter’s, to acquire valuable information about the perpetrators of the most deadly shooting since Sandy Hook. Apple was acting in opposition to the FBI, but acting with the intentions of ensuring privacy for its users. I don’t think either side can be faulted for behaving as they did because both privacy and security are important, but citizens can’t have the latter without the former.
The stalemate closed with a tense truce last week when the FBI gained access to the iPhone without Apple’s help. However, this opened up a whole host of new questions, the most pertinent probably being: Will the exploit that was used be repeated to unlock more iPhones? This question already has an answer: Yes, but only if the situation at hand does not require the FBI to divulge the method used to unlock the iPhone into the public domain. Based off of this, it is all but confirmed that the FBI’s claim that the backdoor it wanted Apple to create in IOS would be used only once is entirely false. Not that it was believable in the first place.
So where does this leave us? In a state of limbo.
Apple and its chief executive Tim Cook took a staunch stand for encryption when they refused to create the back door and they haven’t. Apple even went as far as to ask the FBI, rather ironically, for information on the exploit they used to break in.
What will happen now, or at least eventually, is the court battle over encryption that was thought to be inevitable in this case.
“Legal precedent is what the FBI had been after the entire time, they had the device they used to crack the iPhone from the start,” John McAfee said, famous American computer programmer in an Q&A interview with Forbes. The device used to gain access to the phone was most likely a UFED touch, an expensive forensics hacking tool sold to law enforcement agencies by Cellebrite, an Israeli mobile enterprise company.
The case of the San Bernardino shooters is not itself morally ambiguous. They were terrorists and the information on Farook’s iPhone, useful to the FBI or not, belonged to an unquestionably guilty man.
The issue that this case highlighted is that law enforcement agencies, without having to consider at all the factors of encryption and personal privacy, would be able to collect data from any cell phone, regardless of it had been in possession of a known criminal or not.
Backdoors in encryption would allow anyone with the knowledge to take advantage of them see the entirety of the trove of personal data you keep on your cell phone.
The existence of a master key for encryption in a phone negates all security features. If you kept all your money in a bank that allowed anyone to ask the bank for the money and have it handed over, it would be pointless. You don’t want your digital life to be held at the whim of the honor system; it would turn privacy into a joke, but one only the FBI would find funny.