FBI: iPhone backdoor would not set dangerous precedent, we promise


Apple's muckin' with a G here, pal!
Photo: Paramount Pictures

The director of the FBI has written an impassioned open letter to Apple, asking it to go along with the recent court order to unlock the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino shooting investigation.

James Comey writes that the FBI, “isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice.”

Check out the rest of his open letter below:

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI.

The particular legal issue is actually quite narrow. The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. 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.

That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.

Reflecting the context of this heart-breaking case, I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending, but instead use that breath to talk to each other. Although this case is about the innocents attacked in San Bernardino, it does highlight that we have awesome new technology that creates a serious tension between two values we all treasure: privacy and safety.

That tension should not be resolved by corporations that sell stuff for a living. It also should not be resolved by the FBI, which investigates for a living. It should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before.

We shouldn’t drift to a place—or be pushed to a place by the loudest voices—because finding the right place, the right balance, will matter to every American for a very long time.

So I hope folks will remember what terrorists did to innocent Americans at a San Bernardino office gathering and why the FBI simply must do all we can under the law to investigate that.

And in that sober spirit, I also hope all Americans will participate in the long conversation we must have about how to both embrace the technology we love and get the safety we need.”

Comey’s letter follows days after Tim Cook posted an open letter of his own, arguing that a court order stating that Apple needs to create a government backdoor to one of its devices represents an, “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”

You can read more about the case in question — which promises to be one of the biggest tech stories of 2016 — courtesy of our handy FAQ page here.

It is worth noting that, while Comey talks about this being a one-off occurrence, and not about setting a precedent or sending “any kind of message,” he’s been gunning for Apple’s end-to-end encryption privacy policy for some time now.

As far back as September 2014 — well over a year before shooter Syed Rizwan Farook shot up an office party in San Bernardino, California — Comey described himself as “very concerned” by steps companies like Apple were taking to strengthen privacy on mobile devices.

“I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I am also a believer that no one in this country is beyond the law,” Comey said at the time. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”

Yep, on balance it’s sounding more and more like he wants to set a precedent with this latest case!

The question is whether Apple will cave or not?

Source: Daily Mail

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  • Nicnacnic

    Nice letter. Pity it comes after the feds have added court orders into the mix.

  • Bill Mark

    The issue is making sure the 4th amendment is not violated, that we don’t sell the soul of the nation for a security blanket. Serving justice is one thing, but if we don’t follow our laws then how can it be served?

  • digitaldumdum

    “FBI: iPhone backdoor would not set dangerous precedent, we promise”

    The FBI is completely wrong to try to compel Apple to unlock iPhones, and to sue them for not “complying” with the precedent-setting request. Not being able to do their own job correctly—with their vast number of agents and gigantic taxpayer-funded resources—they try to muscle Apple into betraying the company’s trust to its tens millions of users in the us, and more around the world? Hogwash.

    Please explain why there is a law protecting gun manufacturers from being sued by •anyone• if a firearm is used in the commission of a crime, but a computer is not protected from the same laws. Besides, guns actually kill people, iPhones do not.

    Pure and simple, this is a case of a government agency (one who’s computers are under hacking attempts 24/7), being so inept that they cannot find out some bit of information they want about a crime, without threatening the security of tens of millions of Ameicans. Ah, but let even •one• of these “officials” screaming for Apple to change the rules place •his or her• iPhone on a park bench or Starbucks and walk away, and we’ll see how “patriotic” they really are.

  • Hildebrand

    Tech companies should use the situation to negotiate a long term “1 device unlock per week” rule, to limit unlocking to top priority cases.

  • Demosthenes

    If this happens i have bought my last iPhone. Privacy is extremely important for some of us and if anyone is going to read what you have on your phone how are we to keep company secrets for example..or private ones for that matter.

    • TomV

      Nonsense and I bet you wouldn’t do it.
      What are your alternatives, Android with a lot of malware and unsafe/spying app ?

    • dreamdjinn

      If this happens you might as will stop buying cell phones. Period. If the FBI forces Apple to do this, do you think they will stop with Apple? This precedent will apply to all smart phone manufacturers, all computer operating manufacturers, anything that is software based that has encryption will be affected by this decision. The Department of Justice already has a backlog the phones they want unlocked. The New York State government has already come out and said did they have hundreds of phone they need unlocked. They are just waiting for this decision forcing Apple to break their own encryption. This is a dangerous game, make no mistake.

      • Demosthenes

        Yes, sadly, you are probably right…it is a shame. I´m not american my self but will probably be affected of this decision as well….