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

  • 'Aggressive' coyotes close down Calgary greenspace

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Officials in Calgary have shut down a greenspace in the Panorama Hills area of the city after complaints about aggressive coyotes. Area resident Gavin de Jong, who has young children, says the coyotes seem particularly aggressive this year. Source
  • NASA'S Juno spacecraft finds chaotic weather, massive cyclones over Jupiter's poles

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Once it began skimming the giant gas planet's cloud tops last year, NASA's Juno spacecraft spotted chaotic weather, including enormous cyclones over Jupiter's poles, according to new research. Scientists released their first major findings Thursday. "What we've learned so far is earth-shattering. Source
  • New research reveals what happens when adults learn to read

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Learning to read is hard when you are a kid, and even harder as an adult. New research published Wednesday in Science Advances has revealed what your brain is doing when you learn to read as an adult, and found that brain regions associated with ancient functions are largely responsible for our ability to read. Source
  • Forecasters predict above-normal Atlantic hurricane season

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MIAMI -- Warm ocean waters could fuel an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, while storm-suppressing El Nino conditions are expected to be scarce, U.S. government forecasters said Thursday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast calls for 11 to 17 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes. Source
  • Google AI wins 2nd game against Chinese go champion

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A computer beat China's top player of go, one of the last games machines have yet to master, for a second time Thursday in a competition authorities limited the Chinese public's ability to see. Ke Jie lost despite playing what Google's AlphaGo indicated was the best game any opponent has played against it, said Demis Hassabis, founder of the company that developed the program. Source
  • Honeybee losses in U.S. decline, but some warn too early to celebrate

    Tech & Science CBC News
    There's a glimmer of hope for America's ailing honeybees as winter losses were the lowest in more than a decade, according to a U.S. survey of beekeepers released Thursday. Beekeepers lost 21 per cent of their colonies over last winter, the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey found. Source
  • U.S. honeybee losses improve from horrible to bad

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- There's a glimmer of hope for America's ailing honeybees as winter losses were the lowest in more than a decade, according to a U.S. survey of beekeepers released Thursday. Beekeepers lost 21 per cent of their colonies over last winter, the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey found. Source
  • Russian spies may have backed email phishing campaign in effort to spread disinformation

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A lengthy report by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab details a global espionage campaign involving email phishing attacks and leaked falsified documents. Although there is no "smoking gun" so to speak, there is overlap with previously reported Russian activities, the report released Thursday suggests. Source
  • From phishing to false documents, researchers detail a cyberespionage campaign that points to Russia

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A lengthy report by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab details a global espionage campaign involving email phishing attacks and leaked falsified documents. Although there is no "smoking gun" so to speak, there is overlap with previously reported Russian activities, the report released Thursday suggests. Source
  • Foster owl takes fluffy, orphaned owlet under its wing

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A fluffy, five-week-old orphaned baby owlet is getting a second chance at survival thanks to the help of a rescue centre in B.C. and the guidance of an experienced foster owl. The adorable little male hatchling has been recovering at the Raptors Rescue Society in Duncan, B.C. Source