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

  • Meteorite hunters find first fragments of Michigan meteor

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DETROIT -- Meteorite hunters who flocked to Detroit from across the U.S. after a meteor exploded are finding the fragments. The 6-foot-wide meteor broke apart Tuesday about 20 miles over Earth, NASA scientists said. Source
  • Zoocheck calls for strong message on ice-cream-eating bear

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An international wildlife protection charity says they hope the Alberta government sends a strong message as it investigates a central Alberta zoo that took one of its bears through a drive-thru for ice cream. The video, posted on social media this week by the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, showed a one-year old captive bear named Berkley leaning out a truck's window and being hand-fed ice cream by the owner of the Innisfail Dairy Queen. Source
  • NASA bumps astronaut off June spaceflight in rare move

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA has bumped an astronaut off an upcoming spaceflight, a rare move for the space agency so close to launch. Astronaut Jeanette Epps was supposed to rocket away in early June, and would have been the first African-American to live on the International Space Station. Source
  • Adolescence now lasts from 10 to 24, scientists suggest

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Growing up will take a little longer if a group of new scientists get their way. In a new opinion piece in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, a group of seven academics make a case for redefining adolescence from ages 10-19 to 10-24. Source
  • Hippo-y birthday to Fiona! The popular preemie is turning 1

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CINCINNATI -- Some days, it's more like being a Hollywood star's agent than a communications official for the zoo. That's what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity. The Cincinnati Zoo has a day of festivities ready for Fiona's first birthday party Saturday, and expect plenty more of Fiona in Year 2. Source
  • Booby-trapped messaging apps used for spying in Canada, U.S.: researchers

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An espionage campaign using malware-infected messaging apps has been stealing smartphone data from activists, soldiers, lawyers, journalists and others in more than 20 countries, researchers said in a report Thursday. A report authored by digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout detailed discovery of "a prolific actor" with nation-state capabilities "exploiting targets globally across multiple platforms. Source
  • Christa McAuliffe's lost lessons finally taught in space

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Christa McAuliffe's lost lessons are finally getting taught in space. Thirty-two years after the Challenger disaster, a pair of teachers turned astronauts will pay tribute to McAuliffe by carrying out her science classes on the International Space Station. Source
  • Huawei's latest attempt to enter U.S. worries lawmakers — but Canada doesn't share its concern

    Tech & Science CBC News
    For the past decade, Chinese tech company Huawei has found no shortage of success in Canada. Its equipment is used in telecommunications infrastructure run by the country's major carriers, and some have sold Huawei's phones. The company has struck up partnerships with Canadian universities, and say it is investing more than half a billion dollars in researching next generation cellular networks here. Source
  • Taxpayers pick up $100,000+ tab for ministerial tweets

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A Twitter account created for Canada's health minister last summer is costing taxpayers more than $100,000 a year in salaries and overtime for the bureaucrats who run it. The account was launched Aug. 18 and so far has issued about 250 tweets, or about 50 a month in English on @CDNMinHealth and in French on @MinSanteCAN. Source
  • NASA tests nuclear power system for future astronauts on Mars

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Source