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Eshoo backs Apple's resistance to FBI iPhone access

Congresswoman cites 'dangerous precedent' from court order forcing tech company to write access programming

A ranking member of the U.S. Congressional Communications and Technology Subcommittee said she supports tech company Apple's refusal to unlock an iPhone owned by a shooter in the San Bernardino killings.

Rep. Anna Eshoo said in a statement on Friday, Feb. 26, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation overreached when it went to court to force Apple to unlock the phone owned by deceased killer Syed Rizwan Farook. The iPhone, which investigators found in Farook's car, according to news reports, is the property of his employer, the San Bernardino County Health Department, which consented to the FBI search of the phone.

But the FBI reset the phone's iCloud password, and it has been unable to unlock the phone. If the wrong password is entered 10 times, the phone's data may become scrambled, the agency has said. The FBI sought Apple's help to unlock the phone, but Apple would have to create a new program to do so, the company has said, and it has refused to do so, citing grave future privacy-violation concerns for all Apple devices.

A writ sought by the FBI from a California district court orders Apple to create a program that would give the iPhone a "backdoor" so that the data can be retrieved. But Apple strongly objects to the court order. CEO Tim Cook said in a statement that "the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create."

Eshoo agreed.

"As a veteran of the House Intelligence Committee, I've seen first-hand the heavy damage that occurs when big government exceeds the limits set by law," she wrote in the statement. "The trust of the American people has been severely diminished by many indefensible undertakings, including Cisco routers being intercepted and bugged by our government before being shipped; the allegations that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone and those of other world leaders were being tapped; and the CIA spying on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as it was investigating controversial detention and interrogation programs.

"What Congress would not legislate, the FBI is now seeking to accomplish through the courts," the statement reads.

The FBI's request sounds simple and reasonable, but the implications of this case extend beyond any one company or device, Eshoo said.

"The FBI has gone to court to force a private company to create a system solely for the purpose of the federal government to use whenever and however it wishes. This came about after the government missed a key opportunity to back-up and potentially recover information from the device by resetting the iCloud password in the days following the shooting," she said. "This is a stunning overreach of the FBI to demand that a private company create a new operating system with a 'swinging door' that the federal government can enter and exit without any rules whatsoever, whenever they wish.

"The access being sought by the government is a national security issue with global implications. If forced to comply with the Court's order, Apple would not just be unlocking one phone. It would in essence be ordered to also unlock a world where our personal information is vulnerable to attacks by terrorist organizations, rogue nations and others seeking to cause the U.S. harm and instill fear," she continues.

Congress has determined that backdoors endanger the country because they weaken security. Efforts to circumvent code that protects sensitive information on one device creates a dangerous precedent for future seizure of information and a pathway for unauthorized access of that information by hackers, foreign governments and terrorists, she added.

In an interesting twist, she quoted one of the country's most notably conservative Constitutional scholars, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In a 1987 case, Arizona vs. Hicks, Scalia wrote for the court's majority: "But there is nothing new in the realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few in order to protect the privacy of us all."

Eshoo acknowledged the importance of law enforcement, but mass access to surveillance by the federal government is not the answer, Eshoo said.

"Our Constitution calls on us to protect and defend against enemies both foreign and domestic. It also provides for the protection of the citizenry from the abuses of its own government," she said.

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Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli P.
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Nayeli P. is a registered user.

Surely there is some sort of compromise. We shouldn't be talking about an open-ended break in privacy. Rather, this can be similar to a warrant issued by a judge for the purpose of imminent national security issues.

This particular couple -- Islamic fundamentalists -- murdered innocent people in an act or terror. They were linked to international and, potentially, domestic terror groups. The authorities are simply looking to find out.

I do not believe that the government should have access to ALL of our communication. In fact, such breaches should be rare and only as a result of a warrant. Still, I believe that this particular case warrants such an "invasion of privacy." The dead terrorists don't care anyway.


15 people like this
Posted by Sick of It
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2016 at 1:21 pm

I have gotten disgusted with the FBI, the lawmakers, and the government in general not " getting it" when it comes to high tech and security. Obviously the left hand in this country is totally ignorant of what the right hand is doing.


12 people like this
Posted by Pooch
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Nayeli, I suggest reading more about the topic here: Web Link to get an understanding on what the FBI is asking Apple to do (see On Ribbons vs. Ribbon Cutters).

What the FBI is asking for has broader implications than just breaking into one phone.

At least Eshoo gets it. Our senior senator Feinstein does not.


5 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 26, 2016 at 6:46 pm

"What the FBI is asking for has broader implications than just breaking into one phone."

Why do you think Apple and the FBI/NSA/CIA aren't reading everything you do on your iPhone right now? Apple built the system, Apple has the key to it. Apple has government contracts.


20 people like this
Posted by apple employe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2016 at 9:46 pm

We provided four alternate methods to unlock the phone other than re-writing iOS to gain access, but the FBI refused.

We all know they just want this re-written iOS so they can load it onto all the phones that they want, without word from Apple. Most likely, they will court order us to have the new iOS loaded onto all phones from the start...

this marks a very bad time


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2016 at 7:22 pm

"but the FBI refused."

Do you know why? Would Apple's offers definitely accomplish what the FBI needed?


11 people like this
Posted by Government Overreach
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2016 at 10:21 am

I'm glad Apple is standing up for consumer privacy. There are hundreds of requests by courts to unlock phones and it appears the DOJ is trying to use this particular case to get Apple to open up so they can exploit it for many other cases. Privacy is a linchpin of freedom.


2 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Feb 28, 2016 at 5:45 pm

It's simply a major Apple publicity campaign. They need to re-spark their base after losing Steve Jobs' charisma.


2 people like this
Posted by I love Anna Eshoo
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

Anna Eshoo is a gift to the citizens of this Country. So smart, so ethical, and so rational. I kept wondering when someone was going to say...Hey, it was a County phone. Of course they could get into it so the FBI was looking for the back door to get back at Apple for not bowing to their power. Thank you Anna Eshoo for your fine service to this Country. Proud.


12 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 29, 2016 at 6:23 pm

Apple completely blew it. Its defeat is total. The outcome could not be worse.

Apple could have quietly unlocked a single phone and kept its methodology to itself. Instead, it outsourced the job to tge FBI, who in turn has informed Apple that its vaunted secure system is breakable, and said no more.

Apple has no idea what the vulnerability might be, hence it has no path to correcting it. Even if it finds a flaw on its own (and we can bet the lights will be on all night for many weeks in Cupertino), it cannot be sure it has found this particular fubar. Like Apple before it, the FBI ain't talking.

Worse, Apple has no clue about who has the secret sauce--the FBI got its information from an unnamed party, after all--so for all Apple knows,the formula could be oozing throughout the dark web, with a backhanded endorsement by the FBI, as it ponders its situation.

Like VW, Apple's product has suddenly taken a deep hit due to its own misguided actions. It does not know what the technical fix is, but it can be sure it will be expensive, both in dollars and the blot on its carefully cultivated image of superiority.

And it was all so easily avoidable.


5 people like this
Posted by SpoiledRotten
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Apple Employee said:
>> We provided four alternate methods to unlock the phone other than re-writing iOS to gain access, but the FBI refused.

>> We all know they just want this re-written iOS so they can load it onto all the phones that they want, without word from Apple. Most likely, they will court order us to have the new iOS loaded onto all phones from the start...

Well, assuming that is true ( most stories and things I heard about this conflict and are very short on specifics ) I assume the FBI wants to have a way to ID, find and crack phones in the middle of a real terrorist crisis. That, not only seems reasonable to me, but necessary in today's world.

This needs to happen, and is probably more of a question of whether it will happen before a bunch of people are killed, or after in hindsight. I am all for privacy rights, but digging in heels to prevent the FBI from being able to react is problematic.

The main invasion of privacy is being done daily by the big Internet companies who find out, store and know many times more about us than they let on and that we know about. Personally I would love to turn back the hands of time if it was possible, but since it's not it is time to get serious. To do that in a democracy means that we need to educate people and help them to learn how to think. Just that alone means that if we are serious about defending ourselves and our way of live we have to change our whole paradigm to something that diverges from countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia in terms of inequality and fairness to something more in line with other developed countries of the world from which we attack and find any number of reasons we cannot move in that direction.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:53 pm

It was arrogance and money vs. the public good, and we the people won a round. Kudos, FBI.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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