Apple CEO Tim Cook recently announced that the company would battle a court order requiring it to turn over information stored on an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters to the FBI. Apple has argued that the FBI’s request essentially amounts to creating a version of the iPhone software that creates a backdoor, effectively allowing for access to private information beyond this case.
“Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes,” Tim Cook in a letter.
Citizen Lab Postdoctoral Fellow Christopher Parsons told Global News in an interview that he believes Apple is genuinely dedicated to privacy. He noted that the company doesn’t run the same extensive advertising program as organizations like Google, and thus collects less user data by default. “Apple has very aggressively worked to secure some kinds of data that are collected and stored by iPhones,” said Parsons. He added, “This is demonstrating that Apple is very committed to trying to ensure that not just American users but its international users are not at risk of having their devices tampered with by Apple itself. The big thing about this decision is that it would force Apple to start writing software to undermine the security it puts in place.”
In another interview with the Globe and Mail, Parsons said that if the government wins in the current case, it would be difficult to restrict the use of a backdoor in future cases. He pointed out that the hardware-based encryption that Apple built into iPhones starting with the iPhone 5s makes it vastly more difficult to hack than the software versions on the 5c and older devices. Parsons added that in the future, “the government could tell the court, ‘It was difficult last time, and they did it.’ The more dangerous part of the wedge is if Apple’s [current] claims of this being onerous are overridden.”
Christopher Parsons also commented on another Globe and Mail story, discussing Canada’s lack of a policy debate over encryption.
Citizen Lab Senior Security Researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire echoed this in an interview with the Scientific American, arguing that Apple are concerned with setting a precedent. Moreover, if the company was successful in bypassing older iPhone security, Marquis-Boire said that a judge who was not aware of the security differences among various models could compel Apple to do so again, even if this was not possible with newer encryption.
“There’s the worry of the slippery slope,” which means that this may be applied to other devices and crimes other than terrorism, he added.