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FBiOS-Gate lands dead cold against the FBI, Tim Cook fights back

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February 19, 2016

To say the least, this week has been an extremely busy and controversial week as far as Apple and the FBI are concerned.

And now the whole IT community is behind Tim Cook's efforts in fighting the federal agency over the most basic freedom of privacy rights on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans.

To be sure, public opinion over the judicial demand that Apple creates a unique version of its iOS mobile operating system just for the FBI (called FBiOS in the IT community) appears to have landed firmly against the federal agency.

The FBI has demanded (some say 'ordered') Apple to assist the agency in breaking into the mobile phone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook who, along with his wife, killed fourteen people in December 2015.

Yes, it was a very tragic incident that should never have happened and the devastation and grief for the victim's families is hard to imagine. FBI agents are now investigating the two assassins for possible terrorist links to Al Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist organizations.

The FBI clearly felt that the case represented an ideal opportunity to assert its authority over Apple or any other U.S. company for that matter.

However, amid all this confusion, an open letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook in which he made it abundantly clear Apple would resist what it feels is "overreach by the U.S. government," appears to have turned public opinion in favor of Apple's stance. And now Cook also has the whole IT community standing behind him with their full support.

As could be expected, strong privacy advocates such as Edward Snowden predictably came out in favor, while a few right-wing Republican senators come out against Apple.

But with the full details and the deep implications now more carefully considered 24 hours later, it appears that most agree with Cook that the U.S. government ordering a company (or any company) to create a product solely to break its own security is a step too far, and the whole thing circumvents the most basic tenets of internet security and privacy rights in the first place.

Even the FBI doesn't have that right, some say. "We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack," said Cook.

And Google's Sundar Pichai agreed, saying in a series of tweets-- "We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data. Could be a very troubling precedent in deed."

And most other technology companies stood strongly by Cook's position as well. WhatsApp head Jan Koum also referenced the "dangerous precedent" that could be set and noted that "our freedom and our liberty is at stake."

Mozilla's executive director Mark Surman said much the same. Other companies that have made their support public include anonymizing browsers DuckDuckGo and even the Tor Project, as well as password software company 1Password. Jonathan Price, CTO of the Canadian IT firm Sun Hosting also firmly approved Cook's stance in the matter.

Several internet companies and organizations have also come out in support. The Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo published a statement in support.

"Overall, technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the various technologies that keep their users' information secure," it stated. Montreal-based data center consultancy Avantex also agreed.

The Internet Society also came out against the Fed's plan, noting-- "We do not believe backdoors – in any guise – will help bring about a more trusted Internet." And the Internet Infrastructure Coalition noted that the industry "cannot support a government mandate to weaken security standards."

We have yet to find a single technology company or executive that has provided anything but support – with even Blackberry's CEO John Chen refusing to comment. Chen notably criticized Cook last year for the "disdain" he had shown law enforcement when he refused to unlock a different iPhone.

Chen argued that a "proper balance can be struck." Faced with what the Feds clearly felt was a proper balance, however, Chen has been silent. Rick Andover, chief editor of IT News Website ItDirection said he fully supports Apple's decision and added-- "The FBI or any other federal agency has their work cut out for them. We understand and fully support their agenda, and what happend to the 14 innocent people that lost their lives in San Bernardino is appalling, but privacy rights are just that, and we need to fully respect that."

Ok, so that's the view of the technology industry. What about the politicians? In its first reaction, the White House emphasized that the access requested by the FBI was for "just one device" and it seems that was the line that the FBI and the political establishment was planning on pushing. Does that mean Apple has to mofify iOS for just one device?

It is indeed true that what the FBI has asked for – and quite deliberately – would only work with the single phone in question due to the phone's own unique ID. Except, if Apple accepts the legal precedent that the FBI can oblige it to create a new product solely to break its own security, it would of course apply to all devices, one at a time. The whole concept doesn't make any sense and Apple is dead right about this.

Despite one Congressman, Tom Cotton, implying that Apple is on the side of terrorist and child abusers, however, the political tide may have turned against the Feds, and there are no surprises here.

To the big surprise of some politicians, a fairly good number of Congressmen from both sides of the fence have come out strongly in favor of Apple's stance vis-a-vis the FBI.

"Government's demand that Apple undermine safety & privacy of all its customers is unconscionable & unconstitutional," tweeted Republican Justin Amash. Democrat Ron Wyden posted: "FBI request to Apple is bad for Americans' online safety & security, could empower repressive regimes #NoBackdoors."

Democrat Zoe Lofgren then put out a statement making the same point as everyone else: "The order that Apple create a new operating system with a back door, using the 18th Century 'All Writs Act,' is an astonishing overreach of authority by the Federal government."

Lofgren also threatened to use political power against the FBI's legal efforts when she stated "I urge the judicial branch to swiftly overturn this misguided ruling and further urge the Director of the FBI to refrain from seeking public policy decisions from the courts that are more properly decided by the Legislative branch of government."

It is far from universal however, with Republican Richard Burr writing an op-ed in USA Today titled "Apple should not be above the law."

As for a wider public opinion, that is difficult to tell for now, but based on the seemingly endless stream of tweets on the topic, the tide does not appear to have turned from the very pro-Apple comments yesterday.

It also appears that people are taking the situation seriously enough to find out and understand the finer points of the situation: something that happens all too rarely.

The FBI was careful not to ask that Apple bypass its encryption, asserting only that it is asking the company to unlock Farook's iPhone 5C.

But what it is asking is that Apple create a version of its operating system solely to unlock that specific phone. And while the FBI clearly felt this was a smart way to get around the toxic "backdoor" argument, it clearly didn't tell the fact that the American people have a hard time with the US government demanding that someone create something just for them that goes against your own beliefs and interests!

As iPhone forensic expert Jonathan Zdziarski put it in a blog post-- "Not only is Apple being ordered to compromise their own devices, they're being ordered to give that golden nugget to the government, and in a very roundabout, sneaky way. Totally unacceptable.

"What the FBI has requested will inevitably force Apple's methods out into the open, where they can be ingested by government agencies looking to do the same thing. They will also be exposed to private forensics companies, who are notorious for reverse engineering and stealing other people's intellectual property. Should Apple comply in providing a tool, it will inevitably end up abused and in the wrong hands," he added.

Source: Apple.

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Read the latest IT news. Visit Updated several times daily.

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Get a powerful Linux Dual-Core dedicated server for less than $2.67 a day!

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