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FBI & Apple hearing scheduled this month: Developments & timeline


FBI and Apple will meet in federal court in Riverside California on the 22nd of March to fight the case for unlocking of the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym will be hearing the case.

Last month the FBI filed an order asking Apple to unlock the iPhone used by Tashfeen Malik, one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shooting incident. In response Tim Cook published a letter on Apple’s website, saying that the company would challenge the order.

Essentially, Cook said that it has already provided law agencies with what it could, and to unlock the phone further, it would have to update its operating system to allow access. This would essentially create a backdoor OS for iOS devices, which could then be theoretically used to unlock any iPhone.

A timeline of the events since:

February 19th: The Justice Department filed a motion against Apple that claimed Apple “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.” The same day Apple said that a backdoor like the one FBI wants would work on all iPhones. Apple’s executives also confirmed that county officials inadvertently compromised their ability to access the data on the seized iPhone 5C by changing the iCloud password..

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February 20th: The FBI confirmed in a statement that the iCloud password was indeed changed. However, it said that “The reset of the iCloud account password did not impact Apple’s ability to assist with the the court order under the All Writs Act.”

February 21st: FBI director James Comey posted a blog post citing that “The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice.”

February 22nd: In an e-mail to Apple employees, Tim Cook called for the FBI order to be dropped, and outlined some of his arguments.

February 24th: Apple announced that it is developing new security measures that would make it impossible to brute force and unlock an iPhone.

February 25th: Apple filed to dismiss the court order to assist the government in hacking an iPhone. Apple said “This case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe.”

February 29th: In a separate judgement, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, denied a Department of Justice request to force Apple to bypass the security passcode on a drug dealer’s iPhone. This request was also made using the All Writs Act.

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March 1st: Apple and the FBI spent five and hour hours testifying before the Congress. When asked if the San Bernardino iPhone case would set precedent for future encryption cases, Comey said, “Sure, potentially.” Apple said that the problem with following the FBI’s request isn’t time or money, instead “the burden is compromising the security of our customers.”

March 3rd: Some relatives of some of the people killed in the attack in San Bernardino, filed their own brief, siding with the FBI and arguing that accessing the phone may help answer questions about the attack.

The same day, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and other technology companies filed court briefs as a show of support for Apple. Overall over 40 companies and organizations, other that individuals, submitted more than a dozen briefs this week to the Federal District Court for the District of Central California

March 4th: Florida congressman introduces a new bill that will forbid federal agencies from purchasing Apple products till the company cooperates with the federal court order. However, the report mentions that there is a slim chance the bill will pass.

Support for Apple: A U.N. human rights official spoke out in support of Apple today, warning that U.S. officials risked opening a “Pandora’s Box” in the case against Apple that could infringe the rights of users worldwide and ease the way for authoritarian rulers and criminal hackers. Interestingly, Salihin Kondoker, whose wife, a San Bernardino County Health Department employee was shot three times during the attack but survived, also came out in support for Apple.

MediaNama’s take: The court has essentially asked Apple to undermine its own security measures, and Apple is justified in wanting to fight it out. The move could set a precedent where various Governments around the world start asking Apple to do the same, or even use the newly created exploit to access other iPhones; eventually culminating to manufacturers required to build backdoor into production models of pretty much any device.

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Image source: Perspecsys Photos under CC BY-SA 2.0

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