Encryption: Apple vs. FBI – What it means

Encrypted-iPhone-PasscodeThis story has been everywhere this week, it has to do with privacy, encryption, terrorism, the FBI and the iPhone. Sounds like a movie I would like to see. Disclaimer, I am not a lawyer or security expert, but I have tried to wrap my simple mind around the issue because I think it is a big deal. Here are some of the basic points:

  • There was a horrible terrorist event that happened in San Bernadino, California in October. After many innocent people lost their lives, the two responsible were killed.
  • One of the shooters had an iPhone 5c, given to him by the county that he worked for, which the FBI has in their possession. They are hoping that there is information in that phone that could help fight terrorism.
  • That iPhone is locked with a passcode. By default Apple encrypts all that data so it is secure. Most likely after the FBI tried 10 different passcodes it would wipe the phone and the data would be gone forever.
  • The FBI issued an order requiring Apple to assist them in unlocking the phone. From the general understanding this would require Apple to create a new special software to remove the 10 passcode limit, which would let the FBI try every possible code to unlock the phone.
  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, published a letter on Apple’s website saying that they really don’t want to do this.

My best analogy so far: This is like when your government needs to raise taxes or all the children and old people will be left in the cold. The FBI has a very emotionally charged case where they can push their agenda.

Now here are my points on what I think you need to know:

  • Everyone agrees that what happened in San Bernadino is bad, but most people agree that privacy is good.
  • This is not a new issue, governments have pushed Apple and others to build in ‘backdoors’ so that officials can gain access when needed.
  • Like the backdoor of your house, the easier you make it for people you want to come in, it is also easier for people you don’t want to come in.
  • The FBI says they only want Apple to do this one time… until the next time.
  • If Apple does it for the FBI, other governments would have a right to do this. Note: I was going to say “more corrupt” governments but that would be a matter of opinion.
  • There are plenty of private security companies that say they could access the phone (which I would be interested to see) but the FBI wants Apple to do it so that the precedence is set, do not be surprised if this quickly makes it to the Supreme Court.
  • This is an iPhone 5c, the last phone that Apple made without Touch ID and added security features, it would be tougher on new phones and look for Apple to make it tougher in the future.
  • Even if the FBI gets into the phone there is no guarantee they will get any information, it could be in code or locked in further encryption via apps.
  • Apple has always put a huge emphasis on privacy and other major companies are supporting them in this.

This is a big subject and a lot of people are trying to understand it and weigh in, if you want to read more here are some great articles by people much smarter than I:

This is a big subject, let me know if you have questions and we can learn together.