The legal battle between Apple and the Government may finally be over (or not quite). Last evening, the Department of Justice filed for a Motion to Vacate the Order compelling Apple’s assistance in unlocking San Bernardino’s shooter’s iPhone before the United States District Court for the Central District of California.The Government was able to hack into the iPhone and and hence no longer required Apple’s assistance. (See here and here for more on this case).
The Government’s decision to withdraw the case seems somewhat unprecedented to me raising some pertinent questions –
(i) How did the Government manage to break into the iPhone? (There have been some theories to this end propounded by the forensic expert Jonathan Zdziarski.)
(ii) Will the method be divulged to Apple or to the public for that matter? (Communication of the method atleast to Apple would seem plausible.)
(iii) Why were alternative technologies not explored before filing for the Motion to Compel Apple’s assistance? ( Perhaps the existence of these methods were already known to the FBI. However, the Government wanted this to be a test- case for intruding into user’s privacy.)
(iv) Did the Government succumb to mounting anti – public opinion? ( I would say so since Apple had the backing of the largest Silicon Valley tech giants and the civil society groups. Further, even the public at large disfavored the Government’s demand of asking Apple to create a backdoor to an iPhone’s security features.)
In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, the conundrum of striking the right balance between compelling national security needs and user’s privacy has only widened. The closure of the Apple v. FBI battle is the starting point of a larger debate – to what extent can corporations keep their user’s expectations of privacy at bay with a view to aid law enforcement agencies in the event of a national security threat?
( Just the ripe time to read Professor Daniel J. Solove’s book, ” Nothing to Hide : The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security“.)