The FBI in recent years has heaped pressure on Apple and other phone manufacturers to create a “back door” that would allow law enforcement agencies to access locked smartphones.
The FBI tried and failed to convince a court that Apple should be forced to break a phone’s encryption whenever the government requests access. In its argument, the FBI claimed its agents in 2017 had been locked out of nearly 8,000 smartphones obtained in connection with crimes.
On Wednesday, the agency admitted the actual number of locked phones was much smaller – less than 2,000 – and blamed a “computer glitch” for the error.
“Call it a lie. Call it a misrepresentation. Call it a convenient error. Call it what you want. Just don’t call it a fact,” writes Tech Dirt’s Tim Cushing. “So, we know the FBI can’t be trusted to tell the whole story when quizzed about its ‘going dark’ assertions. Now, we know the FBI can’t be trusted to count physical devices accurately.”
The FBI’s case against Apple came to a head in 2016 when the agency seized an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, but was unable to access it due to Apple’s security settings.
The FBI eventually obtained the iPhone’s passcode from an unidentified source, but said it would continue “pursuing a solution that ensures law enforcement can access evidence of criminal activity with appropriate legal authority.”
Apple insists that it can’t create a “back door” for law enforcement without also creating an entryway for hackers.
The FBI’s recent discovery was likely prompted by FOIA requests and demands for answers from Congress. Without this pressure, the FBI would have had no reason to double check its record keeping. “Now that it must answer to both Congressional oversight and tenacious members of the public, it has finally decided to audit its locked phone stash,” continues Cushing.
Author’s Note: This is one of those situations where we must ask ourselves whether public safety policy trumps personal privacy. In most cases, I would argue that it does not.
When consumers purchase a phone, they trust the manufacturer to keep their personal information private. If Apple gives the feds a way to access any smartphone, that trust goes out the window – not to mention the hacking risk.
As people continue to use smartphones for private purposes like banking, investing, shopping, and health monitoring, it is even more important that our phones remain private. Apple has already been forced to give Beijing the keys to all of its Chinese accounts. We should not allow the same thing to happen in America.