Apple ordered to cooperate with feds to open terrorist iPhone
The battleground over privacy versus law enforcement's need to investigate crimes moved to California as a federal judge ordered Apple, Inc. to help authorities crack the encryption on an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists.
The judge ordered Apple to cooperate with the FBI by giving investigators a download to allow them an unlimited number of attempts to gain access to what's on the device. As the phone is designed, after ten passcode attempts, the phone will lock up and make the data inaccessible.
The order issued Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym requires the computer firm to assist the FBI in gaining access to data on an iPhone 5C found in a Black Lexus after the massacre. The car belonged to the mother of shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, while the phone belonged to the Riverside County Health Department for whom Farook worked as an inspector.
Farook and his wife were killed in a confrontation with police a few hours after the mass shooting.
Pym appears not to have sought any legal arguments from Apple before issuing the so-called "ex parte" order to help the FBI crack the iPhone. However, in a court filing earlier Tuesday requesting the order, prosecutors said the company declined to cooperate voluntarily and can be expected to protest the order. A provision in the order, as proposed by the Justice Department, gives Apple five days to seek relief.
An Apple spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The court application says the FBI has an iCloud backup of the phone in question from Oct. 15, but no idea what was put on the phone between then and the shooting spree Dec. 2.
Apple is only giving its customers what they want. But should the need to capture criminals outweigh a citizen's right to privacy?
The battle over the San Bernardino shooter's phone is the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between the FBI and technology companies increasingly adopting encryption-by-default technology as standard on their phones and other electronic devices.
During testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, FBI Director James Comey mentioned the difficulty agents have had accessing Farook's phone. The comments were part of a broader effort by the FBI chief to raise public awareness of law enforcement's difficulty in accessing data that is encrypted by default on new devices.
"You know, San Bernardino, a very important investigation to us. We still have one of those killer's phones that we have not been able to open. It's been over two months now, we're still working on it," Comey said.
Is there information on that phone that would lead authorities to additional terrorists? Or perhaps individuals who might know of other attacks planned in the U.S.?
More importantly, does the remote chance that there is that kind of information on the phone give the government the right to crack encryption?
I don't think there's any broad, inclusive answer to the question. Decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. In this case, most would agree that it would be valuable for law enforcement to know what's on the phone. Apple, while standing on the principle of privacy, should relent and cooperate.