Let’s call it a Tale of Two Telephones, one used by the allegedly Islamic State-inspired terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife, killed 14 people at a San Bernadino, California office party; the other used by a New York City methamphetamine dealer. Both phones are Apple iPhones, and both had been at the center of two very important lawsuits brought Apple by the FBI.
Before it dropped the first suit, the FBI had said it was really interested in only one phone, the one belonging to the dead terrorist Farook, the one with the supposedly super-secure operating system iOS 9. The FBI wanted Apple to crack that secure system to reveal a mass murderer’s network of contacts, but it mooted the case after it had found someone, still unnamed, to penetrate the targeted telephone.
But the FBI is back in court in New York City, and the real message in this second case is that the claim in California that this was all about one phone, one mass murdering terrorist and his potentially threatening associates was always baloney.
The iPhone in NYC is a garden-variety model 5s with a not-so-hardened iPhone 7 operating system, a kind of smartphone everyman, which is one clue that this is a case that pertains to the privacy protections of all phones and all men, women and children who use them.
Another claim made by the FBI in the California case was that they had to force Apple to traduce its own security codes because no one else could get them to the information law enforcement needed. A slew of experts attacked that claim the minute it was made, and it didn’t take long for at least one outside contractor to prove its falsity by getting the FBI what it needed from Farook’s phone.
But the FBI says what worked on the California phone won’t work on the NY phone and that Apple not can open the meth dealer’s phone, it has opened iOS 7 model phones in 70 previous cases.
Apple admits this, but says, in those cases it was asked to help, and this time the FBI wants a court to force them to help, and that’s a precedent that puts the security of all telephones at risk.
But it’s clearly the sweeping precedent the FBI is after, and has been after from the first, its disclaimers notwithstanding…the precedent that says your phone is no more privacy-protected than your house or car or personal or business archives if a judge provides a warrant authorizing a search on some legal or security imperative.