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Apple, FBI face off over iPhone encryption

By Shradha

In what can be seen as a historic fight involving the multinational technology company Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over the company's refusal to unlock an iPhone allegedly belonging to one of the suspects of a terrorist attack in San Bernardino in 2015- there is more to the debate than meets the eye.

The FBI had requested assistance from Apple in unlocking an iPhone obtained from one of the suspects of the rampage in San Bernardino in California that killed 14 people and injured several others, suspecting that the iPhone could reveal more information regarding the terrorists and any other similar plans to be executed on US soil in the future.


After the FBI failed to crack the phone's code two months into the investigation, federal prosecutors had filed a motion requesting Apple's help to decrypt the smartphone.

However, Apple's CEO Tim Cook has taken an unbending stance against the FBI's request, refusing to create a backdoor to the smartphones, warning it was "too dangerous".

What has the FBI sought from Apple?

A US magistrate had ordered Apple on to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to the FBI in disabling an 'auto-erase feature' which after too many unsuccessful attempts locks the iPhone 5c.

However, media reports have said that the FBI is demanding a whole lot more than the data on a single phone. FBI has obtained a court order which has directed Apple to build custom surveillance software for the FBI dubbed as FBiOS by a computer security expert Dan Guido.

In simple terms, the FBI is asking Apple to create a "backdoor" that cracks the increasingly sophisticated encryption on consumers' phones- something that the government has pursued for more than a decade without favourable results.

Apple has state that it has received U.S. court orders under the authority of the "All Writs Act"- the same 1789 law the FBI is invoking in the San Bernardino case -seeking to get it to unlock 12 other devices.

What is the public opinion on Apple's stance?

At a time when the citizens of the United States are participating in the selection of their 45 President, another pressing issue involving privacy vs national security is drawing attention, not only within the States, but worldwide.

15 years after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and three years after Edward Snowden's revelations about United States National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance of phone and internet data, Americans are divided on the whole debate.

While, opinion has been pouring in from all possible quarters, according to a Pew Research Report, there has been more support for the Justice Department than for Apple in the dispute.

Strongly contrasting views have been put across in the report which mentions:

"The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 18-21 among 1,002 adults, finds that almost identical shares of Republicans (56%) and Democrats (55%) say that Apple should unlock the San Bernardino suspect's iPhone to aid the FBI's ongoing investigation. By contrast, independents are divided: 45% say Apple should unlock the iPhone, while about as many (42%) say they should not unlock the phone to ensure the security of their other users' information."

The differences in opinion on unlocking the iPhone varies across age groups too with adults over 30 and older opining that Apple should unlock the phone. Those in the 18-29 age bracket are divided over what Apple should do: 47% say the company should unlock the iPhone, while 43% say it should not, to ensure the privacy of its other users. The rest 18% do not offer a view.

Another report states that the Obama Administration, most Republicans and public opinion have turned against the tech company.

Apple scores major legal victory against FBI:

Apple won a major legal victory against the FBI yesterday when a federal magistrate judge in New York rejected the government's request to order the tech company to help extract data from a locked iPhone in relation with a drug case.This has received the necessary impetus to boost Apple's morale, as it continues to resist FBI's repeated efforts to overcome security measures embedded in Apple's operating system.

Yesterday, lawmakers told FBI director James Comey that the Justice Department is on a "fool's errand" trying to force Apple to unlock the iPhone, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing into the question of encryption.

It was at this meeting that Comey for the first time admitted that "there was a mistake made" when the agency directed that the Apple ID password associated with the shooter's phone be changed.

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