In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Apple and the FBI


Apple has refused to comply with the court order. (Edited: Wikimedia Commons)

The FBI have requested that Apple provide assistance in recovering information from the iPhone 5C of San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed 14 people with his wife Tashfeen Malik on 2nd December 2015. A federal judge has ordered Apple comply with this request [1]. In a press release, Apple CEO Tim Cook has called this court order “unprecedented” and “chilling” [2].

Due, in part, to the Edward Snowdon revelations about government spying and growing concerns over privacy, Apple no longer stores user passcodes (either the 4-digit or 6-digit number) on its servers. As the BBC reported in September 2014 [3]:

On Thursday, Apple said that devices running its new iOS8 software would be encrypted by default, with even the company itself unable to gain access.

“Reasonable technical assistance”

The court order states [4]:

2. Apple’s reasonable technical assistance shall accomplish the following three important functions: (1) it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled; (2) it will enable the FBI to submit passcoes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT DEVICE; and (3) it will ensure that when the FBI submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.

Thanks to their automatic encryption, Apple no longer possess the key to get into any particular iPhone. In plain terms, the FBI want Apple to create a customised version of their operating system: the FBiOS, to use that pretty turn of phrase [5].

Instead of being basically indomitable to the brute force attack — through increasing the entry delay, being unable to remotely input the passcode, the option to wipe the phone’s contents after ten incorrect passcode entries — the FBI want the iPhone to be especially susceptible to this entry method. The FBI has requested that Apple transmute a door of diamond into a door of graphite.


Too many wrong attempts can wipe the phone. (Source: BBC/Sherlock)

The question

The question is not whether Apple have the technical capability to amend their operation system in this way, it is whether the U.S. government has the power to compel them to do it.

This matter must go to a higher court.


[1] Lee, D., 2016. Apple v the FBI – a plain English guide. BBC. Available from: [Accessed: 19th February 2016]

[2] Cook, T., 2016. A Message to our Customers. Apple. Available from: [Accessed: 19th February 2016]

[3] Miller, J., 2014. Google and Apple to introduce default encryption. BBC. Available from: [Accessed: 19th February 2016]

[4] U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 2016. No. ED 15-0451M Order Compelling Apple, Inc. to Assist Agents in Search. Available from: [Accessed: 19th February 2016]

[5] Guido, D., 2016. Apple can comply with the FBI court order. Trail of Bits Blog. Available from: [Accessed: 19th February 2016]



This entry was posted on February 20, 2016 by in American Politics and tagged , , .
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