Right Hooks

FBI on Apple Hack: Never Mind

In other words, the government has a lot to lose in court.

Dan Gilmore · Mar. 23, 2016

In a surprise filing ahead of a scheduled court appearance, the FBI announced it might have a way to crack into the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists without needing to force Apple to compromise the security on its own product. On Sunday, a third party that the FBI swears isn’t another branch of the U.S. government (a.k.a. the NSA) demonstrated a method that could possibly crack the phone used by Syed Farook. “Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone,” government lawyers wrote in their Monday filing. “If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple Inc. ("Apple”) set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case.“

From the beginning, the government said the only way it could access the data in the phone was to compel Apple to give the government a backdoor to the device. However, the fact that it was entertaining third-party advice, listening to unknown members of the tech security world, shows that siccing the All Writs Act on Apple wasn’t a move of last resort. It implies that, all along, the FBI simply wanted to change the security landscape in its favor.

What may be most notable here is that the government fears an unfavorable ruling on the All Writs Act. Most legal analysts think a court would smack down the government’s request, setting the opposite precedent from the one sought by the FBI. In other words, the government has a lot to lose.

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