In Feb. 2016, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, clashed with the FBI.
Cook published a public letter about his run-in with the Feds.
Apple was court-ordered to introduce security vulnerabilities into iOS – so that the FBI could decrypt the cell phone in question.
Are you lost?
Let me explain this in non-IT nerd-speak.
What’s going on between Apple & the FBI?
Every cell phone made within the last two years has an option to encrypt the device.
Encrypting a device protects the data you hold on the device by sending it through an insanely complicated calculus equation.
To the human eye, encrypted data looks like absolute gibberish.
When the phone screen is locked, or the device is powered off, you have to enter the correct password to translate that gibberish into readable information.
This encryption has drastically reduced the risk to individuals from identity theft.
10 years ago, if someone stole your cell phone, they could quickly recover passwords, accounts, pictures, and everything else stored on that phone.
There was no encryption technology at the time.
So cell phone companies implemented encryption capabilities on all their devices.
About five years ago, many companies came under fire for the amount of personal data they received from users.
Apple responded ethically and morally.
They used encryption in such a manner that Apple itself cannot read the personal information you have on your phone that is synced with their data centers.
You know that questionable picture you took for that one dating site?
Apple employees have no way to see it.
So what exactly does the FBI want Apple to do?
The FBI wanted Apple to create a special version of iOS that disabled specific security features.
One of these security features prevents passcodes from being sent to devices electronically.
Instead of manually typing the code, the FBI wanted to connect the phone to a computer and digitally send the password guesses.
Another is the password lockout function.
This specific model (the iPhone 5c) will wipe all data from the device after 10 failed password attempts.
That’s what the FBI wants disabled.
I can imagine the possibilities.
A hidden superuser account on the device?
A Government-controlled kill switch for all phones?
Automatic copying of the information on the device to the NSA data center in Utah?
This seems like it’s everything that a super-villain desires.
But how does that help them guess the password?
What the FBI wants to do is brute force the password.
This is a process in which every possible password combination is sent to the device until it unlocks.
The iPhone would be connected to a computer, and the computer would send it the password “1111,” then “1112,” and so on.
Such an attack on the iPhone pass code would be successful after less than 1 minute.
Imagine the flash sitting there pressing buttons as fast as possible.
How did the FBI justify its request from Apple?
They had to dig deep for some legal precedence.
It’s the same law that they have used in many failed attempts to court order decryption abilities.
It’s a law passed 110 years before electricity was invented, the All Writs Act of 1789, and was last updated in 1911, shortly after the first Ford factory was built.
Why Should You Care?
Have you been living under a rock for the last couple of years?
Did you miss the Edward Snowden leaks?
By fulfilling this request, Apple would have given the U.S. government the tools to read your cell phone metadata, text messages, e-mails, and all digital activity and break into every iPhone on the planet and obtain all information contained within that iPhone.
That information would go into a basement at Fort Meade, along with all of your other illegally obtained personal information, to be used however the government decides.
Not just for terrorism cases.
Here’s what U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has to say on the matter:
“There are rumors that intelligence warrants are being used to get regular criminals.
They collect information through data, metadata, and analysis; they get all of this, get enough to convince — be convinced you’re a drug dealer, and then arrest you using a traditional warrant.
Section 213 this sneak and peek where they go in without announcing, 99.5% of the people arrested are actually people who committed a domestic crime.
They’re not terrorists.”
Tim Cook made a moral and ethical decision for all the grief I give Apple products.
Every CEO of every IT firm in the country should follow his example and do their part to stop government encroachment into our digital lives.
Eric is a former officer in the Republican Club of Frederick County and Frederick County Republican Central Committee between 2015 and 2018. Former guest host on WFMD and showrunner on WTHU. Avid gardener and food preserver. Graduated from Libertarianism to Anarchism as the corruption level in the state requires us to start over from scratch.