What You Need to Know About The FBI vs Apple Showdown

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Why should you care about what the House Judiciary Committee thinks about the FBI vs Apple court case? Well, do you own a phone, or anything electronic? …then you should care, here’s why!

Lost somewhere in the infinite sea of misinformation are clues about how Apple will go toe to toe in court with the FBI later this month. If you were as confused as I was about what all this Apple/FBI/Congress fuss is about then you’re not the only one. So here’s, as far as I can tell, how it all went down Capitol Hill.

The FBI asked Apple to kindly write a little code to basically hack or make a virtual “backdoor” into all iOS devices so that they can break the pass lock code and retrieve data from the phone owned by one of the main suspects in the San Bernardino attack last December.

The FBI’s defense in this matter is that without the pass lock code it could take up to 5.5 years to open the phone, which could provide valuable information for the investigation. The most perplexing aspect of this is that many spectators have already conjectured that the FBI could write this hacking code on their own or perhaps already even have. Certainly other government agencies have the capability as well. Some feel it may be an issue of cost and manpower that has kept them from doing this already. But one truth rings clear: asking Apple to write a code to allow this “backdoor” or “master key” on all devices will make them less secure.

So here is what all the fuss is about: if the courts rule in favor of the FBI it could lead to them not only forcing Apple to compromise citizen security and surveillance, but it would also pave the way for the FBI to request this of other smart phone companies (that’s right, Google and Microsoft could be next!). And this doesn’t just stop at phones. Apple’s products include tablets, cars, medical devices, and home security equipment. In fact, should the FBI be awarded their request, experts speculate that there will be an immediate domino effect with the National Security Agency (NSA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) cascading on the heels of the FBI with requests for the same “malcode” to be written and dispensed via software updates.

The FBI’s position is that neither Apple nor any other tech company should be allowed to create “warrant-free spaces”. What is interesting is that Apple has actually fulfilled requests like this several times before, albeit not on a large scale like what is currently being requested from the FBI. But in the past Apple has been asked for data or access to an individual’s phone to aid an investigation and Apple has complied, often by bypassing the lock on those devices. There is a lot of speculation as to why this specific situation has reached the level it has, and one article guesses that had it not been for a recent similar but unrelated case in Brooklyn that was brought to the attention of the public by the Federal Magistrate Judge overseeing the case, the current confrontation may not have been created so loudly.

On Tuesday both the FBI and Apple testified before the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in a more than five-hour hearing with an equally lengthy (yet accurate) title; “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy”. Check out a video of the hearing here: http://www.techradar.com/us/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/watch-apple-and-the-fbi-face-off-in-congress-1316073

The court hearing to settle this dispute is set for later this month. What do you think should happen?

Twitter enthusiasts can follow the debate by following #FBIvsApple


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*EDIT: An earlier version of this post suggested that Congress had already made an official ruling on this matter. This hearing was an opportunity for both sides to lay out their arguments, and no official ruling has been made.


One thought on “What You Need to Know About The FBI vs Apple Showdown

  1. What a great article. It’s a slippery slope. I worry that we (Americans) are giving up too many of our freedoms under the guise of national security.


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