Blake Dowling: FBI, Apple in battle over confidentiality of iPhone data

Law enforcement investigators are eager to see what information is on the iPhone5c that terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook used for his work at the San Bernardino, Calif. Health Department.

Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 others in December in San Bernardino. They attacked during a Health Department holiday party. Farook worked as a health inspector for the department and was provided the phone for his work. Police killed both Farook and Malik within hours of the attack.

The FBI has been attempting to hack into the phone to determine if anyone else was involved in the terror plot. The courts have ordered Apple to help the FBI get access to the phone’s content by disabling its encryption software. Apple has refused to comply.

Apple executives say they don’t have the software to bypass the encryption. They acknowledge they could create it, but they contend that disabling the killer’s encryption would mean that law enforcement would have access to the information that is on every iPhone owner’s device. In that case, they say, the encryption is meaningless to the people who buy their products.

There are other tech giants taking a careful look at this case because it could establish a significant legal precedent.

Companies like Snapchat are looking at tightening their security so their clients’ data is not at risk. So if app makers tighten their security, investigators who could bypass the encryption still would not be able to get access to information kept on apps.

Apple officials say they have no problem handing over cloud data and anything stored in their files. However, they do not want to write new software to get into their devices.

If they do that, millions of their customers will be exposed, they say. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, says the FBI’s request is asking them to make the “software equivalent of cancer.”

Once the government began pressing Apple to unlock the iPhone, Apple’s R&D department went to work on what insiders are calling the “unhackable” phone.

It is unclear how this phone would differ from the current models, but it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

I believe that the FBI could have hacked into the phone using traditional hacking means. They could have gotten around the security barrier of entering the wrong security code 10 times, and causing the phone to delete everything on it.

But it would appear that they wanted to take the fight public to set the precedent that they can force tech companies to help them with their investigations.

I see where the FBI is coming from. If getting into this phone would possibly stop a future attack and lead to the arrest of other potential terrorists, I am all for it.

But, would this action lead to thousands or millions of future data breaches? Hopefully both parties will find some common ground where the FBI can do its job and Apple can provide its customers with products that protect their information. We shall see.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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