Why Apple shouldn’t develop a backdoor for iOS as requested by the FBI following San Bernardino events

FBI (a.k.a. USA Federal Bureau Investigation) wants one of the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5C unlocked by Apple; even though it seems an easy matter, Apple doesn’t want to comply. And they have more than good reasons to do so.

First of all, Apple isn’t siding with terrorists: many big tech companies like Google and Microsoft have expressed their support. They already provided their stored backups of the device and did everything they could to help the investigators: however Cupertino does not want to decrypt the device itself by breaking its passcode protection. Since iOS 8, Apple deleted the encryption keys of their customer’s devices from their servers: in other words, not even they can access the stored data because they don’t have any way to do so anymore. As a result, the FBI is locked out of the phone and so is Apple… more or less.

Due to the security measures of iOS, FBI has requested Apple to develop a very particular version of their mobile operative system by introducing a backdoor that would let them brute force the passcode with the speed of modern computers, something they can’t do with the iOS we all know. By “brute forcing” we mean trying to input every possible combination electronically: Apple doesn’t let this happen in two ways: by wiping the data after 10 failed attempts, or by repeatedly disabling the device after too many wrong attempts.

The FBI has stepped up its game and had an order signed by a Federal Court Judge to force to Apple to unlock the device: the dispute set off a public battle. What gives the former the authority to do so is known as the All Writs Act in America, a law signed by George Washington in 1789, 227 years ago. Applying this particular law in modern times is far from being a completely justifiable move: it’s unlikely that G. W. intended this law to be used for forcing to unlock an iPhone in questionable ways over two centuries later.

The FBI claims it would be a one-time thing, but it’s far from being that easy: if Apple makes this special iOS release containing a backdoor they would create a legal precedent, which in return can be used as a way to unlock any iPhone in the future as it has already happened once. Moreover such tool would act as a universal key: if the “bad guys” were supposed to get their hands on it in any way, no iOS device would be safe, including those of good-willing users all around the globe.

Handing out the incriminated Phone 5C to Apple and let them do their magic to return it unlocked would still be an issue, because they’d have to develop the backdoor. There’s no way to guarantee such strict control on the tool while it exists.

Apple’s well known for a strict privacy policy. One of their strength is their system’s security and not selling their customers’ data to third parties, something other companies do. As an example the Apple ID you use with their services and products is associated with you as a person: if one day you magically vanish into thin air not even a close relative can claim it, unless they’ve got legal proof that authorizes them to do so. They’ve been accused of refusing to unlock the terrorist’s iPhone just to advertise their stance on privacy as a selling point for themselves. Such attitude would be rude enough for anyone that it’s unlikely Apple’s using such a tragic event for their businesses. CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter to Apple’s employees and customers to better explain their view on the matter and why they are strongly opposing the Federal Court order.

Guaranteeing security is what we all expect from our governments. Though there are lines that shall not be crossed, not even for the greater good that sometimes is used just as an excuse for overreaching. It’s said that in hard times like the ones we’re living, or when emotionally compromised, you should never make important decisions that can impact your or somebody else’s future in the long term. In these occasions you do not take decisions rationally: if anything, someone might just be using the San Bernardino attack to masquerade an attempt to let FBI gain access to a multitude of already existing and currently locked iPhones in their possession.

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