Apple and the FBI: Why you should care
On-going battle over privacy vs. security reaches boiling point
PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The FBI says it needs Apple's help to investigate a terrorist attack.
Apple describes the government's demands as a "dangerous precedent" with "chilling" implications.
"This is the classic debate of privacy vs. security," Coral Gables-based data privacy attorney Aldo Leiva said. "And the appellate courts, and perhaps the Supreme Court, will have to weigh in on the issues, which will also include whether Apple can be forced to write a new system for use by the government."
In a Tweet Wednesday, technology journalist and The Verge/Vox Media co-founder Joshua Topolsky called Apple's open letter to customers both "incredible and unprecedented."
Andrew Felix, Digital lifestyle expert for TechLaunchPad.com tells Local 10 News, "If Apple agrees with the government to have backdoor software on its customers devices then a user's information is not securely protected. Apple is always putting their customers best interests first. People keep a lot of important and personal data on their devices. It's their life."
In a more than 1,000-word post on the company's website, Apple's CEO Tim Cook details the reasons why it is opposing a court order mandating that Apple assist law enforcement hack into a phone linked to the on-going San Bernardino shooting investigation.
Click here to read letter from Tim Cook
"Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution," writes Cook. "But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case. In today's digital world, the "key" to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge. The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable. The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals."
"Apple is in a very difficult position," Leiva said. "It must, of course, comply with lawful subpoenas and court orders, but it also has the legal right (and obligation) to challenge court orders that could cause unintended harm to Apple customers and to its shareholders."
"Apple's encryption program was created in the aftermath of (and as a response to) NSA intercepts and backdoors to other tech giants. The unprecedented nature of this court order is that it is ordering Apple to create a new operating system to undermine its own encryption system. Apple is concerned that, once created by Apple, this tool will be used by the government (or others) to violate the privacy of anyone who uses Apple iPhones."
"While the tech industry and segments of the public will never trust the government, we need to be able to at least assist law enforcement in keeping up to date with technology," former state and federal prosecutor David Weinstein said. "I see what Tim Cook is saying, but by not assisting law enforcement, he is letting the bad guys stay one step ahead."
The Encryption Battle: Reaching the boiling point
This one moment in time has been months in the making.
In recent years "connected" devices loaded with personal data has become a lifeline for many Americans. This, as data breaches and threats to personal information become of increasing concern to consumers.
For the past 15 years, identity theft has been the number one consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
Florida has the highest per capita rate of identity theft in the nation, which means Floridians are vulnerable to cyber criminals looking to poach their online information.
Call Christina: Preventing identity theft, what to do if you've been victimized
Keeping sensitive information from health data, to contacts, to bank account numbers safe from hackers and cybercriminals is paramount.
This has led to the demand for encryption and an on-going conflict between tech giants and law enforcement.
Both want to do their job.
Tech companies benefit by selling you a product you can trust.
Law enforcement would like to be able to access the technology to assist in investigations.
Last year, two tech industry associations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging the White House to support encryption, addressing concerns about the balance between privacy and national security.
The Information Technology Industry Council and the Software & Information Industry Association wrote: "We appreciate that, where appropriate, law enforcement has the legitimate need for certain information to combat crime and threats. However, mandating the weakening of encryption or encryption 'work-arounds' is not the way to address this need."
"So in the area that is very much still being developed, and again it speaks to the overall concept, is that we are uploading everything about us on to servers that we don't even know where they are," Leiva said.
Cook called the FBI's request for a hack into the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters a "dangerous precedent" and said the implications of the "government's demands are chilling."
"Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority," Cook said in the letter. "The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by brute force, trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer. The implications of the government's demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge. Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government."
"While I am not a fan of Big Brother looking at my smart device, Apple should be careful what they wish for," Weinstein said. "I see this heading down the road of CALEA (the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act), 47 USC 1001-1010. Telecommunications providers balked at helping law enforcement and look at the legislation that resulted from that. It hasn't allowed any more unauthorized electronic snooping by the government. They are still required to obtain a court order. In fact, the courts have expanded certain rules and requirements. Mobile tracking devices and cell tower tracking data are prime examples."
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