Report: Apple Has Unlocked 70 iPhones For The Feds, Worry Latest Request Might 'Tarnish Their Brand'

by Chris Menahan
Feb. 17, 2016

The truth is finally coming out about the highly suspicious case whereby Apple is now refusing to unlock a phone for the Feds in the San Bernardino mass shooting case.

From the Daily Beast:
A 2015 court case shows that the tech giant has been willing to play ball with the government before--and is only stopping now because it might "tarnish the Apple brand."

Apple CEO Tim Cook declared on Wednesday that his company wouldn't comply with a government search warrant to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers, a significant escalation in a long-running debate between technology companies and the government over access to people's electronically-stored private information.

But in a similar case in New York last year, Apple acknowledged that it could extract such data if it wanted to. And according to prosecutors in that case, Apple has unlocked phones for authorities at least 70 times since 2008. (Apple doesn't dispute this figure.)

In other words, Apple's stance in the San Bernardino case may not be quite the principled defense that Cook claims it is. In fact, it may have as much to do with public relations as it does with warding off what Cook called "an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers."

For its part, the government's public position isn't clear cut, either. U.S. officials insist that they cannot get past a security feature on the shooter's iPhone that locks out anyone who doesn't know its unique password--which even Apple doesn't have. But in that New York case, a government attorney acknowledged that one U.S. law enforcement agency has already developed the technology to crack at least some iPhones, without the assistance from Apple that officials are demanding now.

The facts in the New York case, which involve a self-confessed methamphetamine dealer and not a notorious terrorist, tend to undermine some of the core claims being made by both Apple and the government in a dispute with profound implications for privacy and criminal investigations beyond the San Bernardino.

In New York, as in California, Apple is refusing to bypass the passcode feature now found on many iPhones.

But in a legal brief, Apple acknowledged that the phone in the meth case was running version 7 of the iPhone operating system, which means the company can access it. "For these devices, Apple has the technical ability to extract certain categories of unencrypted data from a passcode locked iOS device," the company said in a court brief.

Whether the extraction would be successful depended on whether the phone was "in good working order," Apple said, noting that the company hadn't inspected the phone yet. But as a general matter, yes, Apple could crack the iPhone for the government. And, two technical experts told The Daily Beast, the company could do so with the phone used by deceased San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, a model 5C. (It's not clear what version of operating system the phone had installed.)
Read their full report here.

The case is highly suspicious, everyone knows the security of iPhones is extremely questionable. I know of no one who actually trusts the data on their iPhone is encrypted without any government backdoor, yet here Tim Cook is taking a highly public stand refusing to hack the phone despite allegedly doing so SEVENTY TIMES in the past.

This stinks of a coordinated publicity stunt: it gives Apple users the false impression iPhones have no backdoor, and it gives the state the justification to demand backdoors into ALL PHONES because the case is so highly charged it gives the average schmuck the impression encryption is only used "to protect terrorists."

One would hope Apple is being genuine and actually taking a stand against government surveillance, certainly no company should ever be forced to hack its own customers, but it appears there may be more to this story than meets the eye.

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