Apple vs. The FBI: Questions Not Asked

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With all of the drama surrounding the dispute between the FBI and Apple, and Apple’s heroic and customer-centric stance to not create any back door into its products, a number of other questions have occurred to me that folks don’t seem to be asking—or at least that aren’t being addressed broadly. Let’s take a look at some of them this week given the news that the Senate is working to put Tim Cook in Jail. I’m pretty sure we don’t have to worry about Cook being a terrorist. (This does suggest that Apple may want to increase its lobby funding).

Why Wasn’t This iPhone Monitored?

Generally, people believe that the phones their employer gives them are monitored. That is likely why the terrorists in question had personal phones which were destroyed. Monitoring software is designed to circumvent phone security so the firms, or in this case government departments, that own the phones can make sure they aren’t misused or used for some illegal activity. It is not atypical for a security audit to want to be able to assure that company/government assets are being used properly and we know that, in the past, government assets like this have been used for thing like viewing porn for instance.

In addition you would think, given the possibility of inside attack that any government service employee would have had a background check and that alone should have triggered monitoring. Finally the NSA has spent billions setting up monitoring on virtually everyone so why isn’t that used in this instance? Why do they need Apple? Maybe they should just phone the NSA? Wasn’t the 9/11 problem that these agencies didn’t talk to each other? Rather than pounding on Apple, maybe fixing that would make more sense.

Why Are They Making This So Public?

The advantage to something like a back door only works if no one knows about it. If they are successful in getting Apple to create a back door, then everyone who isn’t living under a rock will know that iPhones can’t be trusted, meaning the very tool they want created will become worthless. Even for this one phone, anyone that is connected to the attack can see the investigation getting closer and closer to them and likely took off some time ago. So even if there is information on this phone it’s not likely to yield anything worthwhile.

This all seems designed more to hurt Apple than to help law enforcement and Apple products are used by a huge cross section of American citizens including the First Family. So why is the FBI so hell bent on hurting Apple and its customers? What is the real goal here?

Apple and Google have been fighting for some time and we know Google is now deeply connected to the Obama administration. Could this be Google’s attempt to critically hurt Apple using its contacts in the Obama administration? If so are Trump and Cruz, who have come out in support of this FBI attack, then Obama/Google Patsies?

Whatever is going on here is not what we think.

How Is A Government Office Justifying iPhones?

The terrorist was a government employee. This was a government phone, and iPhones are considered luxury phones, and the government is supposed to operate frugally. Why then did this terrorist government employee get an iPhone in the first place? This is like seeing an authorization for a luxury car for a government field employee. I can certainly see if this phone was purchased by the employee and then the phone service paid by the government but this phone was bought by the government during a time when revenues are down and government offices are supposed to have deployed austerity measures, so how did they authorize a luxury phone for a low level government employee? This kind of suggests that—rather than being short on cash—at least one government office isn’t executing the required austerity measures. Maybe it is time to cut taxes and put employees on a cheaper phone.

Wrapping Up: Conspiracy Theories

This kind of leads to a whole bunch of conspiracy theories but and I’ve only touched on a few. One thing that continues to bother me is that these folks destroyed their personal phones making it likely there is nothing on the iPhone that wasn’t destroyed that could be used. They clearly knew they were going to be captured or killed. This seems like an awful lot of trouble to gain access to a phone that likely doesn’t have anything worth accessing.

I also wonder if all of those phones out there owned by the government are now on a short list of phones to get monitoring software because it would be really embarrassing if this all happened again in a few months. Rather than attacking Apple and trying to put Tim Cook in jail, maybe working to make sure another attack doesn’t happen would be the more prudent course of action.

(By the way if you haven’t read the Wikipedia coverage on this, it makes you wonder why these folks were allowed to continue to work in a sensitive area and weren’t on some kind of watch list). Makes you wonder if this isn’t all about getting us to focus on Apple and not wonder, given the massive amount of spying on us they are doing, why the FBI couldn’t prevent the attack in the first place.)

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About Author

As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

34 Comments

  1. If you have a safe at home, and you commit a horrible crime, law enforcement can ask for a warrant and break into it. Why does apple not feel that a lawful order in a specific case applies to them? All they need to do is to turn off the dooms day device by providing an update to the phone using their certificate so it can be brute forced. Tim Cook is acting like a fake brave man because nobody he loved was murdered by the owner of that phone. If it was a gay bashing case, I bet he would be the first person to offer help to law enforcement but nope, it’s not him, he doesn’t care.

        • Traitor is debatable–a matter of perspective at least. Liar, on the other hand, I believe is simply false. The government has not denied what Snowden has said, and in most cases has confirmed / admitted it.

          • It doesn’t matter what he is. We should focus on the information contained in the documents. Debating his character does not address the information and facts contained inside the documents.

        • Thank you for sharing your opinion about Snowden.

          What is your opinion about the contents of the Documents and the Proof of Government Malpractice??

    • If you have a safe at home and law enforcement has a warrant they may be able to break into the safe. However, I don’t believe they can compel the maker of the safe to break into it for them. Doing so would be economic suicide because nobody would buy a safe from a company with a history of simply making it “un-safe” when asked.

      I think Rob brings up a number of great points in this article. Why make such a big deal now? Why be so public about it? The FBI may want access to the information on the device–although it’s likely not of any value–but this scenario seems to be much more about the bigger picture of establishing the precedent where government can just compel companies to engineer access on demand.

      • Don’t forget Apple takes a stand on “privacy” by its purest form. This is a real world, filled with good people and many criminals and terrorists. Apple is pushing for making devices so “private” that if in the wrong hands, we are doomed: a deadly bomb or something trigger nobody is able to unlock or disable for example. That’s what they are promoting. And, Google et all and many “privacy” fighters won’t hesitate to put all your private info on the web, or sell it to the highest bidders any day. It is ironic that now they talk about “privacy”. It is business, ultimately for them.

        • Criminals and terrorists are bad and that’s why we have law enforcement and government intelligence agencies. However, the pursuit of criminals and terrorists does not warrant tossing out the Constitution or violating civil liberties. If we defend ourselves by surrendering our civil liberties then we already lost and there’s nothing to defend ourselves from. Law enforcement and government intelligence agencies need to do the best they can within the bounds of the laws and principles they’re supposedly trying to protect.

          • I would encourage you to defend our family and kids first and foremost in time of needs where unlocking a phone may help and on occasions the only way. What is liberty’s worth if many would die for this “privacy”? Apple made that nearly impossible even at the most needed moments. Who are they protecting exactly?

          • Many *have* died for this privacy. It’s not even about my own family or kids. I served in the US Air Force and *I* would have died for *your* freedom, privacy, and civil liberties. Men and women fight and die all the time to defend and protect our freedom and way of life. We shouldn’t ALSO have to defend it from our own government.

  2. Why Wasn’t This iPhone Monitored?
    Keep in mind this was a County government, not even a State and certainly not the Federal government. Yes, monitoring is a good idea for employer owned cell phones. Guess the County messed up on this point.

    Why Are They Making This So Public?
    To make the very point that they are not asking for a backdoor, that’s why. Apple is lying. The FBI has not asked for a backdoor or even a hack that can be applied on anything they want. They are asking for a single use OS encoded to the specific phone. The court order is exacting on this point, the modified OS must not be capable of running on anything but this one one. Apple can easily do this. They have the source code and the people who wrote it. Absolutely they can do it, should have done it already.

    How Is A Government Office Justifying iPhones?
    A fair question for the taxpayers of San Bernadino County to ask.

    Wrapping Up: Conspiracy Theories
    Conspiracy Theories are like babies. A mouth on one end, an alimentary canal at the other and no sense of responsibility between.

    • That’s the thing this is similar to say asking a landlord to open the door to a suspect’s house but Apple’s stance is that they do not own the phone or own the data therefore they are not under obligation to open it.

      Yet this is the county’s phone and they have consented and the locking software is Apple’s so I don’t see how that will hold up.

  3. The court order refers to a phone owned by a government agency that handed out iPhones without following the proper security rules. Mobile device management has been available for quite some time. Did the government agency read the memo?

    The government agency was supposed to implement MDM (mobile device management) on all the mobile devices handed out to the employees.

    All the mobile devices (phones, laptops, tablets..) that are registered under the MDM have to be audited at least every year

    The IT department of the government agency will have a separate dedicated Apple ID capable to unlock the phone when presented with the proper judge order.

    The fact that the government agency does not follow the law either by incompetence or disregard (like in we are the government, the laws do not apply to us) does not have to create a liability on everybody else right to privacy

    A legal precedent can be established if Apple will comply in removing the brute force protection.

    Any back door can and will be exploited outside this single case either by hackers or governments (note the plural)

    It is very obvious the justice department is using this case were the majority of the people will be sympathetic to its cause to take another shot at the encryption technology. Obama knows that post Snowden it is a hard sale to go to the Congress to achieve access thru legislation. He hopes somebody in the industry will crack under pressure and create a legal precedent and even better a technical tool.

    • I was with you until the last part. You can’t create a backdoor for something that is already encrypted. All the government wants is for Apple to re-design the input mechanism so they can brute-force the password. Anyone concerned about their privacy shouldn’t be, in any way — and maybe they should think about using a phone that allows them to enter more than 4 digits as a password.

      • Just FYI–you can use either a 4-digit or 6-digit passcode with iOS or switch to alphanumeric and create a more complex password if you wish. You’re not limited to a 4-digit numeric passcode.

        • Ok, thanks. 4 digit alphanumeric still not secure, though! 6-digit is much more secure, but governments can still crack that.

  4. Colorado state employees are all issued iPhones. They don’t appear to be monitored regarding personal use either since employees use them for personal texts, email, and web browsing without repercussion.

  5. How Is A Government Office Justifying iPhones?
    Probably in the same way schools have Apple products. They were probably offered the best deal by Apple.
    Conspiracy nuts find nefarious plots everywhere. The idea that the government is somehow targeting Apple on behalf of Google is one of those nefarious plots.
    Give this wingnut as much credence as you would give the wingnuts who claim the 9/11 was a government “false flag” operation. None.

  6. Now if the San Bernadino terrorists were allowed to use Hillary Clinton’s email server, anyone could hack into it.

  7. I do not have a lot of patience for the FBI (or NSA for that matter). Rather than being up front and direct on what their needs for access are, these agencies passed their requests surreptitiously through the FISA court’s rubber stamp to obtain a secret order compelling disclosure. (There is no advocate for the public in the FISA court.) When anyone got wind of this and attempted to challenge this system they where systematically denied standing to sue because of the secrecy of the whole program. We have no basis to trust them.

    –It took someone like Snowden to blow the lid off this truly nefarious underground, and, in my opinion, Un-Constitutional program. Finally, those like Sen. Feinstein who, were trusted to supervise the program, were asleep at the switch. There was no Congressional supervision and no check and balance in place, anywhere.

    For the life of me I do not understand why the FBI, NSA, Congress, and Administration cannot understand the following simple declarative sentence that is the 4th Amendment, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    To those in government who think I am wrong I say, go check your oath of office and come to terms with it.

  8. ShamelessLakerFan on

    Question: what other than our constitutional law stops reverse engineering of iOS and creation of such a software product? Is it possible that other nations with different laws or no laws concerning government limitations of power can have software such as what the FBI has requested from Apple. What, if any, is the limitation here? Our own morality? Not saying either side is right, just wondering the actual context of the argument in relation to real capabilities of other nations. I do not think saying ‘they don’t have the engineers to do it’ is valid. Iran took over a US stealth drone somehow, landed it with minimal damage, and kept the technological prize. Don’t tell me Apple has anyone unique and that uniqueness of genius makes Apple technology secure, its simply not true.

    • YUP. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s another media circus, we’re being fed this B.S. for a reason, and there’s a hidden agenda at play. I won’t act like I know what it is (I don’t) but the government controls the media, and there’s a purpose for this event, which we might/never understand. I write this, hoping to reach even just ONE person, to WAKE THEM UP to what’s REALLY happening. We’re being programmed to believe what they want us to, people. WAKE UP. Question the stuff that doesn’t make sense, from an objective perspective. Don’t believe the media! The information we’re force-fed is carefully controlled by a small group of uber-wealthy people who have systematically bought up 95%+ of US media companies. Now, why would they do that, if they didn’t have a self-serving agenda? Knowing this, doesn’t questioning widely-publicized stories JUST MAKE SENSE? Trust your instincts. Dig deeper. “Follow the money, and you’ll likely find the truth.”
      And expect it … the truth … will be WAY OFF … from what you originally assumed.
      Just my 2 cents.

  9. As I understand this, the question is not whether Apple can comply (that appears to be a given), but whether it will.
    A rewrite of the OS to comply with the court order would, it seems, only have to apply to the particular phones specified in the order, and not create a general ‘back door’ into any of their devices.
    Given all this, why would Apple refuse to comply? It would seem to be a test of corporate vs government power, rather than a principled stand on privacy.
    The case could take some interesting twists, given the SC decision in Citizens United.
    If corporations are people, can they be jailed for contempt of court? How, since it would be physically impossible? Jail the CEO and Board of Directors? Stockholders?
    Wouldn’t that be fun; tracking down every shareholder and putting him in the slammer for 90 days?

  10. TOTAL B.S. Anyone who actually believes NSA can’t crack these iPhones must be smoking it. The only thing which keeps me from laughing my ASS off when I read these FBI vs. APPLE articles, is the disheartening fact that most people will believe it as true.