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Apple Battling with the Government Again Over Breaking iPhone Encryption of Mass Shooters: Data Privacy Trends
Remember back in 2016 when Apple with in a court battle with the Department of Justice over giving investigators access to encrypted data on the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters? That was back in 2016 and we covered it here, here and here – that situation was resolved when the DOJ indicated that the FBI was able to retrieve the data with help from an “unnamed third party”. Now, Apple is in a new dispute with the government again over the same issue.
According to CNBC (Attorney General William Barr says Apple is not helping unlock iPhones used by alleged Pensacola shooter, written by Kif Leswing), Attorney General William Barr said during a press conference on Monday that Apple had not helped the FBI crack into password-protected iPhones used by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who is suspected of killing three people last month in a shooting at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida.
“We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance,” Barr said, next to a poster with a picture of the iPhones. “This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause.”
“We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks,” he said. Barr has also clashed with Facebook over encrypted messages, which he called “data-in-motion” on Monday.
The comments highlight law enforcement’s frustration with encryption technologies that protect data so that neither Apple nor law enforcement can easily read it. They also preview future clashes between technology companies and governments over whether to build “back doors” that would allow law enforcement elevated access to private data to solve crimes like terrorism.
On Tuesday (as covered by CNBC here), Apple disputed Barr’s assessment that it has failed to provide law enforcement with “substantive assistance” in unlocking the password-protected iPhones used by the shooting suspect at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, last month, but still refused his main request to provide a backdoor.
Apple said it “produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation” after the FBI’s initial request on Dec. 6. The company said it provided “gigabytes of information” including “iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts” in response to further requests that month.
“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” Apple said in its latest statement. “Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.”
Apple made a similar point at a congressional hearing in December as senators threatened regulation if tech companies could not figure out a way to work with law enforcement to legally access encrypted devices and messages. A Facebook representative also attended the hearing, defending the company’s plans to make its entire private messaging system end-to-end encryption, which law enforcement fear will make it harder for them to track down instances of child exploitation, as they do now.
I expected we would see another dispute between Apple (or other provider) and the government, along the lines of the San Bernardino shooter case – surprised it took this long. Maybe it’s time for the AG’s office to solicit the assistance of an “unnamed third party”… ;o)
So, what do you think? Should companies like Apple and Facebook provide backdoor access to their encrypted technology to investigators? Or are there bigger privacy concerns at play here? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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