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

  • Jet lag can adversely affect Major League Baseball players: study

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A new study has found the jet lag that goes with a grinding schedule of Major League Baseball games that takes players from coast to coast and back again can take its toll on performance. Source
  • Paris tests electric driverless minibus to fight air pollution

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PARIS -- In a city hit by chronic pollution and traffic problems, Paris officials are experimenting with a self-driving shuttle linking two train stations in the French capital. Two electric-power EZ10 minibuses, which can carry up to six seated passengers, were put into service Monday and will be tested until early April between the Lyon and Austerlitz stations in Paris. Source
  • Researchers unearth fossils of giant otter in China

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Scientists have unearthed fossils of an intriguingly large otter as big as a wolf that frolicked in rivers and lakes in a lush, warm and humid wetlands region in southwestern China about 6.2 million years ago. Source
  • Xiaomi's Hugo Barra quits China for Silicon Valley

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Hugo Barra, who caused a sensation in 2013 by leaving Google to become a vice president of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, announced Monday he was returning to the United States for health reasons. Barra, under whom Xiaomi was for a time China's best-selling brand, described his experience as a "spectacular" journey but said it was time to return home for a "new adventure". Source
  • U.S. states uncertain what Trump victory means for wind and solar power

    Tech & Science CBC News
    President Donald Trump has disputed climate change, pledged a revival of coal and disparaged wind power, and his nominee to head the Energy Department was once highly skeptical of the agency's value. What this means for states' efforts to promote renewable energy is an open question. Source
  • N.S. wildlife park fundraising to save 'Little Bear' from euthanasia

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A wildlife park in Cape Breton, N.S., is appealing for donations to build a new cage for an orphaned black bear cub in their care. The nearly one-year-old black bear, dubbed “Little Bear,” was found wandering alone by a pair of men on a highway near Whycocomagh, N.S. Source
  • China's online population reaches 731 million

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The number of internet users in China -- already the world's highest -- reached 731 million in December, authorities said, as e-commerce drives consumer demand across the Asian giant. Total internet users rose 6.2 per cent from the end of December 2015 and equals the entire population of Europe, the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said in a statement Sunday on its website. Source
  • Samsung: Batteries only problem with fire-prone Note 7s

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — Samsung Electronics Co. said Monday that problems with the design and manufacturing of batteries in its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones caused them to overheat and burst into fire. The announcement of results from the company’s investigation into one of its worst product fiascos comes three months after the flagship phone was discontinued. Source
  • Ribbon may have finally run out for India's typewriters

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW DELHI -- The end is coming, though admittedly it may not look that way at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, when dozens of young Indians have arrived for morning classes at Anand Type, Shorthand and Keypunch College, and every battered Remington is clattering away. Source
  • China cracks down on VPN devices used to access blocked sites

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- A Chinese technology regulator has announced a 14-month campaign to root out services that allow people in the country to circumvent the government's internet censorship. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says it forbids the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) or leased lines that allow users and businesses to access blocked overseas websites without permission. Source