The government had repeatedly asked Apple to create a backdoor entry into the iPhone’s software, which the tech giant refused stating that such a tool will potentially compromise the data privacy and security of all iPhone users globally. Photo: Bloomberg
The government had repeatedly asked Apple to create a backdoor entry into the iPhone’s software, which the tech giant refused stating that such a tool will potentially compromise the data privacy and security of all iPhone users globally. Photo: Bloomberg

Apple’s encryption battle with FBI is on hold, for now

The San Bernardino shooter's iPhone 5c has been unlocked with the help of a third party, and Apple wants to know how it was done

Apple can take it easy for the time being. The US Department of Justice (DOJ), with the help of an unnamed third party, has successfully unlocked the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c.

This comes after a month of court motions, congressional hearings and public fights over bypassing the security of the iPhone in question. The government had repeatedly asked Apple to create a backdoor entry into the iPhone’s software (Apple had dubbed the demand for this new software as GovtOS), which the Cupertino-based tech giant refused stating that such a tool will potentially compromise the data privacy and security of all iPhone users globally.

The DOJ had filed a status report with the district court earlier on Tuesday, stating, “The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc. mandated by Court’s Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016." In response to the government’s status report, the US district court granted the order to vacate, “The Court has reviewed the government’s Status Report, filed March 28, 2016. Good cause having been shown, the Court hereby vacates the order compelling apple inc. to assist agents in search dated February 16, 2016."

The interesting bit is Apple now wants to know the potential vulnerability in the software that allowed the government to access the data on a locked iPhone. But after all this very public wrangling, the government isn’t entirely receptive to that idea, and that is not surprising at all.

Apple has repeatedly argued that the data stored on locked iPhones cannot be accessed without the user’s unique passcode, which Apple does not have access to. To hack a locked iPhone to access that data would require exploiting a possible flaw in the software, which most tech companies patch as soon as they get to know about them.

Apple has issued a statement in this regard, stating, “From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought. We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.

Apple believes deeply that people in the US and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk. This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion."

Incidentally, The Guardian reported, “Currently, the justice department is still testing to make sure the method doesn’t damage or erase data stored on devices before using it on Farook’s phone." Which means, they aren’t entirely sure if this method will actually work or not.

But this does lead to a rather simple question: How will this case affect the government-tech companies’ relations in the future? After all, Microsoft had said that it’s filing an amicus brief in support of Apple’s decision against the government. Google, Facebook, and Twitter had also filed amicus briefs to show support to Apple. Read more here

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