James Comey on Sunday made a public plea for the American people to support the FBI’s controversial probe.
FBI Director James Comey on Sunday made a public plea for the American people to support the FBI’s controversial request for access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
In an opinion piece penned for the Lawfare blog, Comey suggests that the case “isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message.”
The government, he said, simply wants justice for victims and survivors of the tragedy. “We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law.
That’s what this is,” Comey wrote. “The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI.”
Last week, a Los Angeles District Court judge ruled that Apple must assist the Bureau in the search of an iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
That includes disabling the auto-erase function that kicks in after 10 failed password attempts. Once that’s lifted, the FBI plans to use “brute force” to crack the code, trying millions of combinations without fear of deleting crucial information.
“We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly,” Comey wrote.
The controversial court order does not explicitly ask Apple to break the phone’s encryption, but rather to develop and install a new mobile operating system to allow the government access to Farook’s data.
But Apple CEO Tim Cook says that’s a slippery slope, suggesting that a backdoor created for the FBI could very easily land in the hands of those with nefarious intent.
“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case.
In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks,” Apple said in a Q&A posted to its website. “Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals.
As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks.”
The FBI doesn’t “want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” Comey insisted.
“Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t,” he added. “But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”
In its Q&A, Apple said it has already given the FBI everything it can short of creating that backdoor.
“One of the strongest suggestions we offered was that they pair the phone to a previously joined network, which would allow them to back up the phone and get the data they are now asking for. Unfortunately, we learned that while the attacker’s iPhone was in FBI custody the Apple ID password associated with the phone was changed.
Changing this password meant the phone could no longer access iCloud services.”
Apple, meanwhile, said its opposition to the FBI’s request is “absolutely not” a marketing tactic. “We feel strongly that if we were to do what the government has asked of us — to create a backdoor to our products — not only is it unlawful, but it puts the vast majority of good and law abiding citizens, who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data, at risk.”
Late last week, the DOJ filed a motion to force Apple to comply with the court’s original order.
The agency said it shared the iDevice maker’s concern that information needs to be protected, but insists the FBI’s order does not compromise that goal.
Apple has until Feb. 26 to submit its response to the court.
Tech titans Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, among others, have lent their support to Cupertino in its fight with the FBI.