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?
In my previous post, I had briefly covered the on – going dispute between Apple and FBI on the latter’s ability to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone. Just today, I reviewed all the Motions filed before the Court till date.
I’ve summarized the time line of the case along with the pertinent arguments raised by both the parties. I’ve focused particularly on the First Amendment aspect of the case, with a view to determine it’s relevance to broadcasters. ( Considering that my next professional role is at the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union as it’s Legal Officer. Barring Kuala Lumpur’s muggy weather, given it’s strategic location, I’m looking forward to lead a truly Asian way of living!).
Also, it is rumoured that an Israeli based firm named Cellebrite was aiding the FBI to unlock the phone.
Many of you may be wondering about my divergence from IP to privacy law. However, keeping upto the name of the blog, I could not have kept mum when one of the largest tech – giants has been embroiled in a major legal controversy touching upon user privacy.
The legal controversy in question is none other than the widely reported Apple v. FBI. This case arose in the aftermath of the San Bernardino’s terrorist attacks. The issue revolved around whether the FBI could compel Apple Inc. to write a new software to unlock Syed Rizwan Farook’s (the shooter) iPhone. ( For more on the case, read here, here and here)
A hearing was scheduled for today before the United States District Court for the Central District of California. However, yesterday, the FBI filed for a Motion to Vacate the Hearing. This was on the ground that through an outside party, they had found a way to access Farook’s iPhone. The method if found successful would eliminate the need for Apple’s assistance. The FBI has proposed filing for a status report to the Court by April 5th, 2016.
I’ve been speculating about this, ” outside – party” and it’s legal mandate to propose an alternative method for unlocking the phone. Any useful insights will be much appreciated.