Apple, FBI case about law enforcement, experts say

Apple refusal to unlock an iPhone that may be relevant to a terror attack investigation has raised civil liberties versus national security issues, but legal experts warned Monday that the case is essentially about law enforcement.

Apple, FBI case about law enforcement, experts say

A U.S. court last week told Apple to comply with an FBI request to gain access to encrypted data on the phone believed to have belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, a deceased suspect in the deadly San Bernardino attack in December that killed 14 victims.

Farook, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, may have had ties to Daesh and the FBI believes the phone could have important information that may shed light on the attack, including others who may have been involved and the couple's connections to other entities.

But Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to the request in an open letter to customers, saying the FBI's demand to build backdoor access for the phone violates the privacy of its consumers and it would pave the way for the government to monitor citizens.

Legal experts told Anadolu Agency that this particular case is about law enforcement, gathering evidence and finding about the truth behind the attack.

"This is about getting evidence ... and ordinary law enforcement," said Gus Hurwitz, assistant law professor at the University of Nebraska.

"No government in the world guarantee its citizens 100 percent absolute liberty.

"There are always law enforcement and national security exceptions," he said.

Apple implemented security features on its phones in order to protect users against theft, illegal government monitoring, brought to light by revelations from former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2013 made public disclosures about massive government surveillance programs against American citizens.

"These features amount to the willful destruction of evidence. They amount to a mechanism that will automatically destroy the encrypted data," he said.

Snowden, along with other tech giants such as Google and Twitter, has voiced public support for Cook’s decision not to comply with the government’s request.

And the head of trade group Computer & Communications Industry Association said last week that "if governments compel tech companies to weaken the security that users demand, they are also creating the vulnerabilities that hackers, terrorists, or other nefarious actors need".

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have criticized Apple.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called the debate a "charade" and said, "Apple exists as a corporate entity with the protections provided by U.S. laws, but it cannot be allowed to pick and choose when to abide by those laws as it sees fit".

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump went as far as to demand a boycott of Apple products. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in an open letter last Tuesday that the FBI is asking the company to build a "backdoor" to unlock the iPhone, and stressed that access, once created, could be used in any iPhone in the world to access its user's private information.

The Justice Department filed a motion forcing Apple to work with the FBI, and emphasized "the order does not require Apple to create a backdoor ... to hack [its] own users ... and it does not give the government the power to reach into anyone's device without a warrant or court authorization ... and allows Apple to retain custody of its software at all times."

Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey, senior editors at the legal blog Lawfare, said "Apple is being mischievous" in this current case.

"This is ... a law enforcement and intelligence interest of the highest order: involving knowing for criminal justice purposes who may have been involved in an attack that took place within the U.S. and for prospective purposes who may be planning other such attacks," they wrote.

Hennessey, who was formerly an attorney at the National Security Agency; and Witters, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, argue that because crime investigations are often linked to prevention, Apple’s stance really comes down to a public relations question for the tech giant -- whether the public will see it as "heroic self-presentation" or as "self-serving and anti-communitarian".

"The final decision here doesn't belong to Tim Cook. It belongs to the people -- and it's time for Congress to act," they said.

In congressional testimony last week, the head of the FBI said the Bureau did everything it could to break the iPhone's 10-digit password but was unsuccessful.

He cited a different case in making the point for the need for Apple to comply.

A pregnant woman was murdered in Louisiana last summer.

"No clue as to who did it, except her phone is there when she's found killed. They couldn't open it, still can't open it. So the case remains unsolved," he said.

Hurwitz, the Nebraska law professor, said Congress has been considering this type of a legislation for the last couple of years that would help the FBI in such cases.

Although there hasn't been any legislation, yet, he said the current case could move things forward.

"I think Apple is going to lose ... for the FBI this is a win-win situation,” he said.

“Either they are going to win in the court, or they will lose in the court and then go to the Congress and say 'look you need to pass a law because this is about terrorism, this is about mass murderers, this is about Apple interfering with law enforcement'. That's a really strong argument for them to make," he added.

Anadolu Agency

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