Profit or precedent? What's behind Apple's feud with the FBI

WASHINGTON -- Battling in intense public broadsides, Apple Inc. and the government are making their cases before anyone steps into a courtroom over a judge's order forcing Apple to help the FBI hack into an iPhone in a sensational terrorism case.

See Full Article

Both sides are framing their statements in ways that foreshadow the high-profile legal arguments that pit digital privacy rights against national security interests -- and could affect millions of cellphone users.

Apple has until next Tuesday to protest in court the decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in California. But the public relations campaigns -- pitting one of the world's leading technology companies against the muscle of the U.S. government -- are already underway.

Is Apple adequately co-operating with federal agents investigating the deadly terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California? Is this simply a dispute to recover information from an iPhone 5C used by the gunman, or more broadly a fight affecting the privacy rights of innocent citizens who use Apple's flagship product? Is this about profits or patriotism?

It depends on who you ask, and key players include powerful institutions of government, politics and industry.

The Justice Department fired its first salvos in court papers asking the judge to order Apple to create sophisticated software that the FBI could load onto the phone to bypass a self-destruct feature that erases all data after 10 consecutive, unsuccessful attempts to guess the unlocking passcode. Pointedly, prosecutors said Apple could help the FBI "but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily," and they said Apple could perform the task easily. That point is crucial because the government can't compel a company's help in some cases if doing so would be unreasonably burdensome, even though the U.S. would almost certainly pay Apple for the work.

Apple CEO Tim Cook disputed the claims in his first public statement, distancing the company from the suggestion that it was protecting the privacy of a terrorist. "The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government's efforts to solve this horrible crime," Cook said. "We have no sympathy for terrorists."

Cook also said the FBI's latest demand went beyond previous requests for help: "The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create," Cook said. "They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone."

Cook introduced that radioactive word -- "backdoor" -- into the current debate, and the White House quickly rejected it.

The pejorative term, describing a behind-the-scenes method hackers use to gain unauthorized access, has for years colored the discussion of how the government can obtain protected information or eavesdrop on encrypted communications from criminals or terrorists.

The government is stressing that it wants help to unlock only the work-issued iPhone used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in December. The FBI is "simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But Apple says helping the U.S. bypass its encryption locks on Farook's iPhone would threaten the privacy of all its customers.

"While the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control," Cook said, adding: "Ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect."

On Wednesday, the Justice Department took the unusual step of responding to Cook's statement.

"It is unfortunate that Apple continues to refuse to assist the department in obtaining access to the phone of one of the terrorists involved in a major terror attack on U.S. soil," spokeswoman Emily Pierce said.

The back-and-forth marks an escalation of a dispute that, at least in public, has played out in mostly polite terms. FBI Director James Comey has been slow to criticize U.S. technology executives, describing them as "good people" who share the bureau's commitment to public safety.

In recent months, he foreshadowed a different approach by suggesting companies have the technical capability to help the FBI -- but don't have a business interest.

"Lots of good people have designed their systems and their devices so that judges' orders cannot be complied with for reasons that I understand," Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee one week after the California shootings. "I'm not questioning their motivations. The question we have to ask is, should they change their business model?"

The rhetoric has drawn in presidential candidates, too. Marco Rubio acknowledged Wednesday night the issue is complex and said Silicon Valley needs to figure out a way for access to information in emergency circumstances such as preventing a terrorist attack. Ted Cruz said Apple should be compelled to help the government hack the iPhone because it's a binding order.

"Any time you're dealing with issues of security, and civil liberties, you got to balance them both. And I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time," Cruz said. But he indicated Apple was on the right side against weakening the security of every iPhone.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • NASA satellite imagery provides animation of 'breathing' Earth

    Tech & Science CBC News
    It's a view of our planet you've likely never seen: a living, breathing Earth. Using several satellites, NASA has provided a new view of Earth with 20 years of observations. The animation illustrates the changing seasons, from a snow-covered Canada to the waning and waxing ice of the Arctic and Antarctic. Source
  • 'Breathing' Earth seen from space

    Tech & Science CBC News
    It's a view of our planet you've likely never seen: a living, breathing Earth. Using several satellites, NASA has provided a new view of Earth with 20 years of observations. The animation illustrates the changing seasons, from a snow-covered Canada to the waning and waxing ice of the Arctic and Antarctic. Source
  • Ontario researcher joins annual NASA-funded Antarctica meteorite search

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An Ontario physicist is embarking on a NASA-funded expedition to Antarctica to collect meteorites, in hopes that the fallen space rocks will give researchers new insight into the outer reaches of the solar system. Scott VanBommel, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Guelph, is joining the annual Antarctic Search for Meteorites for a six-week excursion to the Transantarctic Mountains, about 350 km from the South Pole. Source
  • Potent greenhouse gas methane could be cut for 'near-zero' cost: study

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canada's oilpatch could get a big head start on reducing emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas for a "near zero" cost, says an academic study on the price of methane reduction. "Industry, as a whole, doesn't suffer," said David Tyner, a Carleton University professor whose analysis was presented recently at a conference in Ottawa on the issue. Source
  • Some greenhouse gas methane could be cut for 'near-zero' cost: study

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canada's oilpatch could get a big head start on reducing emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas for a "near zero" cost, says an academic study on the price of methane reduction. "Industry, as a whole, doesn't suffer," said David Tyner, a Carleton University professor whose analysis was presented recently at a conference in Ottawa on the issue. Source
  • 11 months, 90,000 km later, Birder breaks record for most species spotted in Ont.

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Jeremy Bensette has travelled more than 90,000 kilometres across Ontario over the course of 2017 in pursuit of his passion: bird watching. Eleven months after beginning his "Big Year," the 27-year-old has broken the record for the most bird species spotted in a single year in Ontario. Source
  • Energy-efficient light bulbs increasing light pollution, new study suggests

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A team of international researchers has found that, despite an increase in energy-efficient LED bulbs, surface light pollution has increased around the world. That, they say, is due to the so-called rebound effect: lighting has become cheaper and more energy efficient, so people are using more lights more often. Source
  • 'A bad feeling in the pit of my stomach': Bees vanish from Brock research project

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Miriam Richards has been studying bees for 28 years, and she's never been quite this panicked.'Living in a world without fantastical creatures, it just sounds to me so barren and depressing.'- Miriam Richards, Brock University professor of biological sciences Source
  • Cellphone companies may need to step up privacy protections, minister says

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Cellphone companies may need to do a better job protecting their customers, in light of a CBC/Radio-Canada investigation showing security vulnerabilities in Canada's two largest cellphone networks, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. And if telecommunications companies need "encouragement" to better protect privacy, the government will provide it, he said. Source
  • World's only particle accelerator for art revs up in Paris

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The world's only particle accelerator dedicated to art was switched on at the Louvre in Paris Thursday to help experts analyze ancient and precious works. The 37-metre (88-foot) AGLAE accelerator housed underneath the huge Paris museum will be now be used for the first time to routinely study and help authenticate paintings and other items made from organic materials. Source