Tags: NSA/Surveillance | VA Scandal | Apple | Cook | FBI

Apple's Potemkin Privacy Suffers a Breach

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Thursday, 07 Apr 2016 02:54 PM Current | Bio | Archive

You may recall the Apple CEO Tim Cook made a big production out of refusing to comply with a court order to help the FBI extract the data from an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino Islamic terrorists.

I wrote about initial developments in the controversy here.

In a letter to the public Cook characterized his refusal to cooperate as a principled stand for personal privacy, “Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.”

Only his statement is irrelevant. The customer was San Bernardino County and it wanted the data off the phone, too.


Apple’s unreasonable obstinacy is the equivalent of a bank refusing to open a drug dealer’s safety deposit box because it would cause privacy concerns among the rest of its customers.

Why should a murdering terrorist’s contact list be sacrosanct while a drug dealer’s cash horde is subject to seizure?

Apple’s privacy posturing was hypocritical from the beginning. As Arthur Herman points out: “Apple is the first company that agreed to let China carry out security checks on its devices . . . Apple obligingly stores its information on Chinese users on servers in China; it has also agreed to inspections by Internet police of the data stored there.”

Apple is happy to cooperate with a Chinese government that kidnaps overseas political opponents, pressures dissenters by arresting their families and imprisons domestic government critics, but draws the line at helping a democracy get information from a murder’s phone to help the investigation.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to think of what would happen if Apple refused to cooperate the next time China’s state security apparatus wanted help cracking down on dangerous Falun Gong practitioners who exercise in public parks.

In the beginning, when it looked like the FBI was going to be forced to rely on it’s own resources, the jihadi’s co–conspirators looked safe.

Government hackers would have had the same chance of success as a chain of out–patient plastic surgery centers operated by the VA.

Then the FBI had a brilliant stroke. It outsourced the job to the private sector and held its own DEF CON hacking contest. Rumor has it an Israeli company named Cellebrite was the winner.

Now that the FBI has announced it’s cracked the security features on the iPhone 5c without Apple’s help and Cook’s iOSanctimony, it is giving both shareholders and customers a rash.

Cook’s fanatical obstinacy to a perfectly reasonable request gives Apple the worst of all worlds.

First he lost the ISIS Seal of Good Privacy: What’s the use of having this infidel on our side if the FBI can bypass him?

Second, no one at Apple knows how the FBI did it.

If Apple had cooperated it could have negotiated to keep control of the technique. Cook conceivably had a chance to develop the security bypass and keep the software in–house.

In turn, Apple would extract data from any iPhone as long as the request was accompanied by a court order.

Today the FBI is in the driver’s seat and the AP interviewed a source that said, “ . . . federal law enforcement would continue to aid its local and state partners with gaining evidence in cases — implying that the method would be shared with them.”

So much for any Apple input on how the technique is used and where.

First up is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance who has 205 iPhones ready to use the FBI’s new procedure in cases that don’t even have to be of national security import.

The really galling aspect of Cook’s self–imposed problem is if Apple wants to find out how its security was breached, it has to go hat–in–hand to beg the information from a now hostile FBI.

Even worse for Apple, although there is a precedent for the government informing the private sector when it discovers a security hole — Vulnerabilities Equities Process — the New York Times points out the FBI can declare the hack is “proprietary” to Cellebrite and refuse the request.

The feds have every reason not to share the information with Cook because Apple will use it to plug the tech breach and the FBI will be back at square one.

This is a real public relations victory for Tim Cook. Now all Apple customers know the FBI has the power to get at their data and their contacts, which may be why Bill Clinton has been looking at Android phones.

Michael R. Shannon is a commentator, researcher (for the League of American Voters), and an award-winning political and advertising consultant with nationwide and international experience. He is author of "Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!)." Read more of Michael Shannon's reports — Go Here Now.


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Apple’s unreasonable obstinacy is the equivalent of a bank refusing to open a drug dealer’s safety deposit box because it would cause privacy concerns among the rest of its customers. Apple’s posturing was hypocritical from the beginning.
Apple, Cook, FBI
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2016-54-07
Thursday, 07 Apr 2016 02:54 PM
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