Following the letter from Tim Cook, Apple has now published a set of questions and answers regarding the case of the FBI demanding, via a court order, that Apple create a backdoor into iOS for the FBI to use. Overall, I find the questions and answers a strong showing by Apple, but two parts really stood out to me.
First, the FBI is apparently a little bit incompetent.
One of the strongest suggestions we offered was that they pair the phone to a previously joined network, which would allow them to back up the phone and get the data they are now asking for. Unfortunately, we learned that while the attacker’s iPhone was in FBI custody the Apple ID password associated with the phone was changed. Changing this password meant the phone could no longer access iCloud services.
This is incredibly cringe-worthy. The agency now asking to weaken the security and harm the rights of all iOS users, is the same agency who made beginner mistakes such as this one. If you are a true cynical, which I am, you might think the FBI changed the password on purpose in order to force this case.
The second part that really stood out to me is also by far the weakest part: Apple seems to be contradicting itself regarding the question whether or not it unlocked iPhones for law enforcement in the past.
Has Apple unlocked iPhones for law enforcement in the past?
We regularly receive law enforcement requests for information about our customers and their Apple devices. In fact, we have a dedicated team that responds to these requests 24/7. We also provide guidelines on our website for law enforcement agencies so they know exactly what we are able to access and what legal authority we need to see before we can help them.
For devices running the iPhone operating systems prior to iOS 8 and under a lawful court order, we have extracted data from an iPhone.
So, did Apple unlock iPhones in the past, or not? This is a pretty glaring contradiction, and it makes me feel uneasy about Apple’s motives and past and present roles in this case. As with any corporation, of course, Apple is beholden to its shareholders, and if this stance starts to lead to political – and thus, financial – headwinds, shareholders will pipe up, forcing Apple to give in. This contradiction only strengthens this fear for me.