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Ouch! Apple’s free publicity could backfire

Ira Winkler | Feb. 24, 2016
Apple is trying to position itself as a staunch defender of citizens’ privacy. But when you extend its arguments to their logical conclusion, it comes out looking like the company is incapable of protecting its secrets.

locked iphone
Credit: Jamie Eckle

As the battle between Apple and the FBI over providing access to an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists rages on, Apple has been trying to turn the situation to its advantage by garnering all the free publicity it can get. Even the Justice Department, in a filing in federal court, called Apple’s statements a “public brand marketing strategy.”

In its campaign, Apple is mustering all the fear, uncertainty and doubt it can. In an open letter to its customers, it states that “the government would have us write an entirely new operating system for their use. They are asking Apple to remove security features and add a new ability to the operating system to attack iPhone encryption, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. … It would be wrong to intentionally weaken our products with a government-ordered backdoor.” The FUD factor in that statement is “weaken our products.” It is grossly misleading, the plural suggesting that the FBI wants Apple to make this back door a standard part of iPhones. That’s flat-out false. What the government has asked is that Apple modify software to remove a feature that was not present in earlier versions of the software, and then install that new software on the single phone used by the terrorist. Apple can then destroy the software.

More contradictory to Apple’s claims is that the FBI has specifically stated that it does not intend to cause a weakening of the consumer product, so this case cannot be used as a precedent. Should the government at any time attempt to do that so that back doors to be embedded in products, its own words would be the most compelling argument to counter that.

A section of Apple’s statement is titled, “Could Apple build this operating system just once, for this iPhone, and never use it again?” Although that is exactly what the government is requesting, Apple’s phrasing makes it sound like the most ridiculous pie-in-the-sky idea ever heard.

The FUD continues, with Apple saying, “Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case.” That might very well be the case. But it has zero relevance. Each of those cases could be resolved only with a court order of its own, regardless of what happens with the San Bernardino iPhone. Even if this case were not in front of the court at the moment, any state, local or federal law enforcement agency could bring a similar case forward. Gaining access to locked data is a legitimate law enforcement issue, and whatever your personal beliefs, all law enforcement officers have a responsibility to attempt to collect all information that is legally possible to collect.


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