DOJ Resumes Encryption Battle with Apple over NY iPhone

by Matt Klassen on April 12, 2016

_3b75488a-df74-11e5-aad2-a48cf0f6d9d5A different state. A different crime. A different iPhone. The same encryption fight.

Even as the Department of Justice pleaded with a California court over the necessity of Apple’s intervention to unlock the inaccessible iPhone of a suspected terrorist, promising that it would be a solitary event, another similar case was going on in New York, where law enforcement officials were looking to gain access to the iPhone of a convicted drug dealer, hoping to find information about associates, evidence of conspiracy, or other criminal activity.

That particular fight has come to the foreground again, as the DOJ told a judge last week that it still requires Apple’s assistance—although this time not the kind of assistance that would have Apple rewrite its iOS security protocols—to fight crime, and Apple should be compelled to do so.

“The government continues to require Apple’s assistance in accessing the data that it is authorized to search by warrant,” U.S. Attorney Robert Capers wrote in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Margo Brodie.  It should be noted that a Federal Magistrate had previously dismissed the claim.

Of course assuming the FBI still has the tools to crack the device, it calls into question the need for Apple’s help, but authorities continue to insist that they don’t have a magic key, that the information is vital for public safety, and that Apple is the only one who can help.

You might immediately assume that given the fact the FBI was able to use third-party assistance to successfully access the data on the iPhone related to the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, that it would have the tools to unlock the iPhone of a New York drug dealer, but not so says FBI Director James Comey, who last week explained that the method is ineffective against newer iPhones, it was just fortunate the first time around that the terror suspect used an older model iPhone 5C. Anything newer than that, the FBI insists, still remains inaccessible.

The New York phone in question is an iPhone 5S, running iOS 7, which still sports older encryption technology, and the FBI claims that while its own method won’t work, Apple does has access and can help.

Now Apple hasn’t disputed the claim that it is able to access the device, and reports indicate, in fact, reports indicate that such efforts in this case wouldn’t require Apple to rewrite any system code that might undermine the entire encryption protocol. Apple has refused to help because the FBI has yet to convincingly demonstrate that its previous method doesn’t work for this particular device, thus the FBI hasn’t yet met the legal requirements for dragging a third-party (Apple) into the case. People close to Apple’s legal team have reportedly also acknowledged that its continue resistance in the New York case would be difficult, yet it will hold out as long as possible.

All that to say, this is turning into quite the chess match, as what you’re seeing here is Apple stalling in an effort to gain insights into how the FBI accessed the first iPhone in question, something the FBI has refused to disclose. Once Apple gets that information (and subsequently closes that vulnerability), I would assume it will help New York law enforcement in, well, a New York minute.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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