thursday, 18 february of 2016

U.S. and Apple Dig In for Court Fight Over Encryption

Washington and Silicon Valley geared up Wednesday for a high-stakes legal battle over a phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists, a contest each side views as a must-win in their long fight over security versus privacy.

A White House spokesman framed the brewing court fight as relating to a single phone—that of Syed Rizwan Farook, who opened fire with his wife at an office party late last year, killing 14 and injuring 22. Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook and the company’s defenders said the fight is really about the privacy and security of millions of customers.

The furor stemmed from a judge’s order this week requiring Apple to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation circumvent a passcode protection system on the phone used by Mr. Farook. Apple has said it will fight the order, setting the stage for what both sides expect will be a precedent-setting case in an era of ubiquitous smartphones.

Both sides are bracing for the legal fight ultimately to reach the Supreme Court, and the possibility that the case could prompt Congress to act. The order from Judge Sheri Pym gives Apple five days to challenge her order, which the company has already pledged to do. Whichever side loses is likely to appeal.

“We now have the conditions for the first punch to be landed,’’ said Ron Hosko, a former senior FBI official. “But this is just Round One.” Mr. Hosko said the FBI has been looking for some time for the right case to make a broader point about the dangers of phone encryption.

In the San Bernardino case, federal law enforcement officials say they have a compelling argument, after a deadly high-profile terror attack, to force open a phone and ensure they haven’t missed additional suspects or evidence.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said on Wednesday that “Apple chose to protect a dead [Islamic State] terrorist’s privacy over the security of the American people.’’

Detectives and prosecutors said encrypted smartphones are a growing problem for them. The Manhattan district attorney’s office said that since September 2014, the technology has kept it from executing about 155 search warrants for devices running Apple’s iOS 8 operating system, in cases that include homicide, attempted murder, sexual abuse of a child, sex trafficking, assault and robbery.

Apple and privacy advocates who support the company’s stance responded on Wednesday that if the Justice Department wins, the data of every phone user in the U.S. and world-wide will be more vulnerable to hackers and government spying.

“It’s not really a question of security versus privacy. It’s security versus security,’’ said Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “Saying that all of these devices must be insecure so the FBI can have access would be a security disaster for us as a society.”

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, voiced support for Apple. In a string of tweets, he said that “requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices” and data could present “a troubling precedent.” Software from Apple and Google run nearly all of the world’s smartphones.

As the fight between federal officials and tech companies over encryption has intensified in recent years, talks between the two sides have produced few results, while Congress has struggled to craft legislation on the issue.

FBI leaders had been scanning for a case that would make a compelling argument about the dangers of encryption. In the San Bernardino phone, they found what some law-enforcement officials privately describe as a nearly perfect test case.

Mr. Farook and his wife opened fire at a Dec. 2 holiday party for workers of San Bernardino County, which employed Mr. Farook, before they both died in a police shootout.

The phone in question was used by Mr. Farook but owned by the county, which gave investigators permission to look at it. County officials don’t know the passcode Mr. Farook used, according to a Justice Department court filing.

Mr. Farook backed up his data to cloud storage until about a month and a half before the attack. Apple has turned over that data. But investigators suspect there may be crucial evidence that can only be found on the phone itself.

The FBI wants Apple to help it disable a feature that would erase the phone after 10 unsuccessful password attempts. That would give investigators the ability to make numerous tries to find the password.

Apple said that to comply with law enforcement’s wishes, it would have to create a separate operating system for the phone, without the security measures, to run in parallel with the existing software. But once that operating system is created, Apple said, criminals and foreign governments could circumvent the security of any phone simply by typing in the device’s ID number.

A person familiar with Apple’s thinking said the government’s suggested techniques for unlocking the iPhone in question would work on even newer iPhones, which have upgraded security systems walled off from the phone’s main systems.

Apple and privacy advocates who support the company’s stance responded on Wednesday that if the Justice Department wins, the data of every phone user in the U.S. and world-wide will be more vulnerable to hackers and government spying.

“It’s not really a question of security versus privacy. It’s security versus security,’’ said Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “Saying that all of these devices must be insecure so the FBI can have access would be a security disaster for us as a society.”

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, voiced support for Apple. In a string of tweets, he said that “requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices” and data could present “a troubling precedent.” Software from Apple and Google run nearly all of the world’s smartphones.

As the fight between federal officials and tech companies over encryption has intensified in recent years, talks between the two sides have produced few results, while Congress has struggled to craft legislation on the issue.

FBI leaders had been scanning for a case that would make a compelling argument about the dangers of encryption. In the San Bernardino phone, they found what some law-enforcement officials privately describe as a nearly perfect test case.

Mr. Farook and his wife opened fire at a Dec. 2 holiday party for workers of San Bernardino County, which employed Mr. Farook, before they both died in a police shootout.

The phone in question was used by Mr. Farook but owned by the county, which gave investigators permission to look at it. County officials don’t know the passcode Mr. Farook used, according to a Justice Department court filing.

Mr. Farook backed up his data to cloud storage until about a month and a half before the attack. Apple has turned over that data. But investigators suspect there may be crucial evidence that can only be found on the phone itself.

The FBI wants Apple to help it disable a feature that would erase the phone after 10 unsuccessful password attempts. That would give investigators the ability to make numerous tries to find the password.

Apple said that to comply with law enforcement’s wishes, it would have to create a separate operating system for the phone, without the security measures, to run in parallel with the existing software. But once that operating system is created, Apple said, criminals and foreign governments could circumvent the security of any phone simply by typing in the device’s ID number.

A person familiar with Apple’s thinking said the government’s suggested techniques for unlocking the iPhone in question would work on even newer iPhones, which have upgraded security systems walled off from the phone’s main systems.

In preparation for what is expected to be a long legal fight, activists and politicians on both sides rushed to weigh in. The case attracted the attention of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whose disclosures of government spying sparked much of the distrust between the government and the tech industry.

Now a fugitive from U.S. charges living in Russia, Mr. Snowden tweeted that the iPhone case "is the most important tech case in a decade.’’

Mr. Cotton said the case suggests the only solution may be for Congress to force tech companies to give law enforcement access to data.

And Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted Apple during an interview on Fox News, saying, “Who do they think they are? … Certainly, we should be able to get into the phone, and we should find out what happened, why it happened, and maybe there’s other people involved.”

(Published by The Wall Street Journal - February 17, 2016)

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