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Should Apple fight a court order to hack into an iPhone 5c?

Should Apple fight a court order to hack into an iPhone 5c?

Apple In Court
February 18, 2016

On Feb. 16, a magistrate for the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued an order compelling Apple to “assist in enabling the search of cellular telephone, Apple make: iPhone 5C.” Apple is ordered to provide “reasonble technical assistance to assist law enforcement agents in obtaining access to the data” on the handset.

Apple, for its part, has responded publicly that it is against the court’s order and will be appealing it. Even though CEO Tim Cook points out that Apple has “no sympathy for terrorists” and has complied with subpoenas and search warrants in the past for data in its possession, this particular order “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

What do opponents of the order have to say?

Apple’s supporters run the gamut from the CEO of Google to representatives at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Sundar Pinchai, Google’s CEO, took his argument to Twitter, saying in part that “Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy.”


Sophia Cope, from the EFF, believes the government is trying to leverage the San Bernadino shootings to gain lasting power over decrypting our smartphones.

In reality, the government is taking advantage of this tragic event to establish a dangerous precedent. The practical problem is that if Apple creates this new unlocking technology, its deployment would be like opening Pandora’s Box. The security of all iPhone users would be at risk.

Alex Abdo, of the American Civil Liberties Union, says that “Apple deserves praise for standing up for its right to offer secure devices to all of its customers.”

What about supporters of the court order?

The United States Justice Department isn’t backing down. A representative for the department recently said in a statement that “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.”

Even representatives from the White House have spoken up on the issue, claiming that the government is not asking Apple to redesign its product or “create a new backdoor to its products.”

James Lewis, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, claims that the government is only asking for “lawful access to communications when authorized by a court — not a backdoor into phones.”

Back up the bus just a minute

The crux of argument in favor of the order against Apple seems to be that the government isn’t asking Cupertino to create a back door into the iPhone. However, that’s exactly what the order is asking for. The court is attempting to compel Apple to write a custom version of iOS that will circumvent the data wipe that would otherwise take place if too many failed attempts to guess the passcode are made.

Let’s make sure I have all of this straight. The government wants to get past the security confines of iOS, by having Apple write a new version that lacks those protections. That sure sounds like a back door to me.

The White House claims that this is all about one device, not all iPhones, but is that truly the case? It’s been no secret that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has been asking for a back door into the iPhone for years, so it would definitely play right into their hands for Apple to immediately comply with the order at hand.

It’s a shrewd, wise move for Apple to fight this order. Immediate compliance with it would set a precedent that could enable the government to pry into iOS devices whenever they want, not just when terrorist activity is behind the order. While this particular case only revolves around older iPhones lacking the Secure Enclave hardware, the next logical step on the government’s part would be to order a way to bypass even that protection.

Ultimately, it comes down to something reader Milorad Ivović said in response to our earlier article about the court order:

The fact that governments and police already have lots of powers to search you, is the absolute worst reason to give them more.

If a back door is made, the wrong people will use it.

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