FBI will fight for iOS backdoors even if it loses to Apple

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iPhone hack
Bruce Schneier thinks the FBI isn't going to stop fighting any time soon.
Photo: Ste Smith

The FBI is unlikely to give up trying to pry its way into iPhones even if it loses the current standoff with Apple over encryption, says security expert Bruce Schneier.

Schneier, who is one of the leading experts on modern cryptography, says it is “clear that the San Bernardino case was preselected as a legal precedent case” by the bureau — despite the fact that FBI Director James Comey has claimed this is not the case (only to later contradict himself.)

Here’s Schneier, in a new Q&A with The Register:

“The FBI will carry on trying to get their way even if they fail in the San Bernardino case,” “[Security] has always been a giant game of whack-a-mole and that has been true since the beginning of computing.

“We fought these battles in the 1990s cryptowars and won, but it’s not going to stop. In part it’s generational, you have to educate the next generation about the issue. Frankly, the FBI got scared and sloppy – they got too reliant on grabbing everything.

It’s clear that the San Bernardino case was preselected as a legal precedent case. If the password failure issue was intentionally done I have no way of knowing.

What’s interesting is that this time the FBI has broken with everyone else in government. The NSA supports strong crypto and [NSA Director Michael] Rogers gave a great talk here this week. The NSA is on a big PR push at the moment to bolster its public image.”

The question of whether the FBI is trying to set a precedent with its current case has been the center of much discussion during the current FBI battle with Apple, which is fast turning into the tech story of the year.

In an open letter, the FBI’s Comey wrote: “The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message.”

However, speaking at a later congressional panel, he admitted that whatever verdict comes in this case “will be instructive for other courts” in the future.

Which, of course, helps explain why the Justice Department has another 13 cases it wants Apple to get involved with by hacking iPhones, despite the fact that the cases have nothing to do with terrorism.

Fortunately, it seems that Schneier’s pro-privacy side of the argument is winning. Yesterday, the United Nations said it was standing behind Apple in its fight against creating a government backdoor for iOS. In a letter written in support of Apple, U.N. Special Rapporteur David Kaye argued that encryption is “fundamental to the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age,” and blasted the FBI’s demands as totally unnecessary.

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  • johnnygoodface

    If FBI succeed, we’re ALL doomed!

  • Mark Schacht

    I must say I’m more than a little suspicious learning that NSA ‘supports’ strong encryption. Me thinks they’ve already hacked their way in…

    • jwtn

      The NSA supports it because strong encryption is vital to nationtional security, The NSA has state of the art Hacking ability capable of cracking strong encryption and the ability to decap phones as well (extremely difficult).

  • D R

    It’s just like MPAA/RIAA and copyright law. You may prevent one piece of legislation from being enacted, but they keep pounding away, using local politicians, international treaties, whatever, to keep increasing copyright terms and punishments for violating them. And you can never, ever, scale them back, because that would be like stealing candy from a baby…er, corporation.