Snowden says Apple security case is most important issue in a decade


Edward Snowden.
Edward Snowden.
Photo: Laura Poitras / Praxis Films

Internet privacy activist and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has come out in favor of Tim Cook’s decision to deny a federal court judge’s request that Apple help the FBI hack the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5c.

Snowden is calling Apple’s battle over security the most important tech case in a decade, and has called out Google for not coming to the public’s side on the issue. In a series of tweets expounding on the issues, Snowden said the FBI’s efforts to force Apple to give them a key bypasses citizen’s ability to defend their rights.

Snowden’s support for Apple isn’t much of a surprise, however, some organizations like the Wall Street Journal are deriding Tim Cook’s decision, claim Tim Cook’s decision could ultimately do more damage than good. Christopher Mims argues that Apple isn’t being asked to create a backdoor that anyone could use, so the company should capitulate to the fed’s demands.

The FBI’s demands aren’t just about one iPhone 5c though. The agency is hoping to set a legal precedence using a law that’s over 200 years old in order to force tech companies to build master keys for law enforcement to use at will. Even if those keys are only used one device at a time, it paves the way for officials to request more and more access to devices.

There might be other way the FBI could unlock the iPhone 5c. Hackers created a $300 machine last year that can bruce force unlock any iPhone PIN in 4.5 days, as long as it’s a 4 digit pin and the device runs iOS 8. Other iOS developers have suggested it could be possible to use other exploits to unlock the device.

The line between ‘just this one time’ and a permanent backdoor is dangerously thin. Developer Marco Arment summed up the FBI’s intentions well in a blog post this afternoon, claiming they’re being used “as an excuse to establish precedent and permanent backdoors for themselves so they can illegally spy on anyone’s data whenever they please. They’re shamelessly using a horrible tragedy to get themselves more power.”

The point of Tim Cook’s appeal isn’t that Apple doesn’t want to unlock this particular iPhone 5c. Apple knows that if the FBI gets their demands this time there will be no stopping the demands in the future. It’s not worried about a single version of the firmware possibly getting leaked (though it is a big risk) as much as it’s concerned that it will eventually be forced by the feds to do this so often, and then it will be all too easy for anyone to acquire hacked firmware.

Deals of the Day

  • DarthDisney

    Look, this guy did one fucking good thing. That doesn’t make him a leader or someone whose every word if followed. Anyone who believes this guy is completely clean is a fool.

    • DrMuggg

      The world is seldom black or white…..

    • Emma Rose

      I’m not sure what good thing he did, he’s more or less a coward.

  • JoeyBill

    Nailed it.

  • Emma Rose

    Snowden is an idiot. He just wants back in the limelight.

  • ljg500

    Apple and Encryption Security

    There are a number of interesting legal and technical issues involved here, including:

    (1) Most consumers probably have no idea what encryption is, whether it
    is enabled on their phones and how it protects them. It is also unclear
    whether on Android devices, the self destruct feature that Apple is
    emphasizing is even in place. Further, on Android phones, the feature is
    generally not enabled by default.

    (2) The irony can’t be lost on the public that companies like Apple and
    Facebook have an interest in security, ONLY in so far as it enables
    their commercial interests. They have in fact become the catalyst and
    enabler of the destruction of electronic privacy as an indifferent
    public satisfies their cell phone addiction.

    (3) It is difficult for large segments of the American public to accept that privacy is
    important if they consider themselves law abiding. They of course ignore
    non-governmental threats, as well as the strong propensity of
    governments to overreach with or without legal restraint.

    The challenges in this debate relate to the issue of precedent setting. If
    the San Bernardino request is granted, then a slew more will come- and
    whether the more hackable version of the OS is ever accidentally
    released to the public or not may a side point. The “cat will be out of
    the bag.”

    I believe this is clearly governmental overreach. The
    public needs to be involved in the debate, legislative actions discussed
    and all competing interests given the opportunity to air their concerns
    in a meaningful way. The issue also has global implications, which in
    turn raises other fundamental human rights issues.