DOJ drops case against Apple after accessing iPhone

March 30, 2016 - 

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice said that it had discovered how to unlock an iPhone without assistance from Apple, allowing the agency to withdraw its legal case that sought to compel the high-tech firm to assist in a terrorist mass shooting investigation.

The decision to drop the case stops a legal standoff between the U.S. government and the world’s largest technology company. As BiometricUpdate.com previously reported, the case was highly contentious because the government was requesting that Apple open up its operating system for access.

Apple had said that would create a dangerous precedent that would threaten data security for millions by essentially creating a “master backdoor” that could later be duplicated and used against other phones. Apple CEO Tim Cook said creating such software to break into a locked iPhone would be “bad news” and that Apple “would never write it”. In an interview, he said any such software would be the “equivalent of cancer”.

The case had become increasingly contentious as Apple refused to help the authorities, creating a debate about the conflict between privacy and security interests. Law enforcement’s new found ability to now unlock an iPhone through an alternative method now however raises new questions, especially concerning the strength of security of Apple devices.

Mark Skilton, Professor of Practice at Warwick Business School and an expert on technology and cyber security, in response to the developments said: “The FBI versus Apple case has left a sour taste. The reported information on it is very scarce as to how they did it, it has in-effect been classified which means that we may never find out. This is a similar legal tool to the All Writs Act that was used by the FBI to push forward a demand for access in the earlier stages rather than resolve the paradox that has arose in how far the government can delve into privacy and citizen rights and protection.”

Skilton noted: “The deeper question ‘Is our data safe and private?’ The former may be the case but our privacy seems to be increasingly harder to hold on to in the digital age and is something I forecast will become a bigger issue for all citizens as they try to control and value their privacy better.”

“I see the FBI versus Apple case has created a possible higher sense of the need for control over personal data and a rise in personal data systems will become ever more critical in the fight to regain access and control to your data whether for public or private means. To some degree it has continued to reinforce the cyber war that is going on in all sides seeking to find ways to break secure systems, something that is no different to any other arms race for power.”

Skilton noted that evidence has emerged that illustrates that cyber threats are a growing issue that are at the core of the Apple case for not opening up the phone and giving way to potentially more weaknesses. Industry cyber threat reports say that intrusion challenges are growing at 66 percent annually. In a PWC annual global state of information security survey released in 2015, it is projected that financial theft constitutes over 90 percent annual growth.

“The issue now is whether this has resolved anything or whether it has simply created a scenario where, ‘if we can get round your defense then that is okay’ appears to be acceptable,” said Skilton. “The caveat, of course, is that this is for legal purposes only, and has been designed to obtain data for anti-terrorism purposes. However, companies will need to continue to address cyber security at a top priority as we live in an era of 24/7 where we are always connected and these firms need to be able to keep most of what is normal privacy away from criminal activity.”

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.