Could we be about to witness ‘Round Two’ of the great Apple vs US Government legal tussle?
Early this year, you will recall that Apple was ordered by a US Court to create a programme to enable the FBI to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino killer who murdered 14 people and injured 22 more in a terrorist attack in California.
Apple refused to do this, arguing that the requirement to create specific software to break their own security settings was excessive and would put all other iPhone’s at risk too. That case had reached an impasse before the FBI paid out a staggering US$1 million to professional hackers who broke into the phone for them.
Well now, the FBI have another terrorist suspects phone they need to unlock. This time, it belongs to Dahir Adan, a Somali-born Islamist who injured ten people in a mass stabbing at the Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
He was killed at the scene by an off-duty police officer, and now the FBI wants to get into his password-protected iPhone.
At a press conference in Minnesota, FBI agent Rich Thorton admitted that once again the FBI was in possession of an iPhone they were unable to access. HE refused to give details about the model of iPhone in question or the software that it was running, but it does seem likely that the same scenario could be about to play out again.
New Legal Battle
“We are in the process of assessing our legal and technical options to gain access to this device and the data it may contain,” said Thorton, raising the prospect of another protracted legal battle with one of the world’s biggest tech companies.
As of yet, there are no further details on precisely what steps the FBI plan to take or whether they might be willing to pay the same price to access another iPhone this time around too. They have also not made any public comment on whether they have raised the issue of this new device with Apple directly.
Since then, researchers have also revealed a way to bypass the iPhone’s security feature which only allows limited guesses at a passcode before wiping the data, by cloning the memory of the phone. This might prove a feasible and more cost-effective way to access the data on Dahir Adan’s iPhone if the FBI can deduce precisely how the technique would work.
Whatever route this latest iPhone-cracking situation may go down, it is likely to bring the issue of encrypted communications bubbling back up to the surface in the USA. At one point it was looking likely to be a core issue of the Presidential campaign before that was reduced down to personal insults and mudslinging on both sides.
Nevertheless, it remains an issue which divides both the US political elite and the US people. On the one hand shouldn’t people have the right to private and secure communications, and on the other hand, shouldn’t the intelligence and law enforcement agencies be able to access data on suspects devices?
Apple seems likely to continue to stand up for the right to privacy if CEO Tim Cooks recent comments are anything to go by. But as the FBI found a way into the San Bernardino iPhone and most likely will again if they are willing to pay the price, US citizens might want to consider taking further security steps, such as using a VPN, to protect their online privacy and security.