back to article US gov to Apple: COUGH UP iMessages or FEEL our FEDERAL FROWN

It's been reported that US officials might yet do battle with Apple over customers' encrypted communication. The idea is raised in The New York Times, which has managed to get Justice Department and FBI officials to say that folks in those agencies want to see Apple cuffed and in the dock. The case in question pertains to the …

  1. Raumkraut

    Faith no more

    There are some circumstances under which messages could feasibly be accessible to Apple. ... however that's a hypothetical scenario and there's no reason to think Apple hasn't kept the faith.

    I'd think that being served a court order to intercept that traffic is quite a reason.

    If they have even a hypothetical ability to intercept traffic, to not attempt to put that ability into practise could well be seen as breaching that court order.

  2. Busby

    Why?

    Can anyone tell me why US agencies are so keen on destroying the tech sector in the country?

    If they think they have problems now trying to get imessages how bad will it be when they have driven every user away from US companies and US based infrastructure?

    Encryption of communications and also at device level are a direct result of the NSA & CIA massively taking the piss by hoovering up everything, and should they manage to ram through an official back door then a large number of people including all of the ones they should be interested in will move to using something not in a US jurisdiction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: why US agencies are so keen on destroying the tech sector

      For the same reason that Risk and Compliance departments are so keen on destroying any business they are part of - they don't give a shit about the consequences so long as their arses are covered.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      Do recall that the current executive has prosecuted (persecuted) more people under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined. Similar comparisons have been drawn about leaks, including reporters and the entire bureau they work for, and whistleblowers.

      Given that track record do you think this President, his Attorney-General, the rest of the DoJ, and various investigatory agencies are going to allow some upstart tech companies to stand in their way?

      The really sad part is the other team is even more gung-ho to torch the Constitution. I'd move to another country except the rest of the English-speaking ones are trying to out-gut civil liberties faster.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why?

        Isn't that the normal procedure for all left leaning administrations with greater surveillance and oppression the further to the left they are?

        1. Naselus

          Re: Why?

          "Isn't that the normal procedure for all left leaning administrations with greater surveillance and oppression the further to the left they are?"

          And, indeed, for all right-leaning administrations, with greater surveillance and oppression the further to the right they are.

        2. Arctic fox
          Thumb Down

          @Ivan 4 Re"Isn't that the normal procedure for all left leaning administrations "

          If you really believe that the Obama presidency can in any sense be described as "left leaning" then you are a total political illiterate. Or you are so right-wing that you are absolutely barking. Say hi to your homebois Ghenghis and Attila next time you guys chew the fat.

          1. Tony Haines

            Re: @Ivan 4 Re"Isn't that the normal procedure for all left leaning administrations "

            Arctic fox, they're probably American. I get the impression there's a different perception of where the centre is there.

            I think this sub-thread explains it well:

            http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2010/11/29/wikileaks_on_us_servers_again/#c_927029

        3. Captain DaFt

          Re: Why?

          "Isn't that the normal procedure for all left leaning administrations"

          Left leaning, right leaning, ordinary straight up pricks, as soon as they get power, the goal is more power, more control, damn the citizens, Full Steam Ahead!

          It's the ones that fear everything and seek control that turn to politics, or religion, if that's the source of power where they are; normal people shun that kind of dickery.

      2. RobHib

        @Jack of Shadows - Re: Why?

        "I'd move to another country except the rest of the English-speaking ones are trying to out-gut civil liberties faster."

        Yeah, on this one you'd reckon that 1776 and George III had never existed! (Sometimes I wish my first language wasn't English).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Jack of Shadows - Why?

          Jefferson... trees... water.... Except it's far too late and the breakages unacceptable.

    3. Shane McCarrick

      Re: Why?

      Its not as simple as simply moving your communications onto servers not on US territory though. There is something mighty strange when Microsoft are in the US Appeal Court trying to defend Irish jurisprudence- and Google- Belgian jurisprudence. The amazing thing is that we're actually hearing about it- normally these things are done behind closed doors- and presented as a fait accompli.

      Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and a select few others- are big enough and have the resources to defend their businesses- very few businesses based elsewhere could mount a comparable battle. You know as well as I do- for a small to medium sized enterprise almost anywhere in the world to take on the US government in this manner- they'd be compared to North Korea- hell, the media would probably accuse the North Koreans and the Chinese of being behind them.

      The argument that if you have nothing to hide- you shouldn't feel the need to encrypt your data- also doesn't wash. The fact of the matter is- it is *your* data.

      Should there be a backdoor to intercept suspicious communications- and interfere in the ability of terrorist organisations or regimes to communicate in a secure manner. Thats a more circumspect question. The problem is- once you put a backdoor in- before long- its not a hidden backdoor- and there are a hell of a lot of people out there who like to sniff around- more often than not just to prove a point- but there are always going to be a cadre of not so savoury individuals who have other intentions.

      The world is one hell of a screwed up place. If the US want to be a global police force on the net- as they apparently do- the very least they can do is try to keep friendly nations on their side- and respecting the simple fact- that Irish law applies in Ireland, Belgian law applies in Belgium, German law applies in Germany. If we don't respect the territorial boundaries of each other's nations- and instead- leave it to the Googles, Microsofts, Facebooks and other organisations- to fight the corner of what should be civilised communications between sovereign states- then something has gone seriously kak.

      Most semi-sane countries have mutual assist agreements- enforce them instead of this extra-territorial / arguably extrajudicial data slurp?

  3. Ole Juul

    Bureaucrats yes, but there are higher-ups

    The Justice Department and FBI officials are indeed powerful, but that doesn't mean they can always do whatever they like. Apple and the tech sector have significant power as well and there could be some heavy backlash for anybody that would take them on. This brings to mind an old saying about suing a newspaper, never piss off anybody that buys ink by the gallon.

    1. Julz

      Re: Bureaucrats yes, but there are higher-ups

      How about, 'Never piss of a companies with offshore cash piles bigger than your national debt'

  4. RobHib
    Thumb Up

    Never been a fan of Apple, but...

    Never been a fan of Apple, but it's a solid upvote to their stand on this one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never been a fan of Apple, but...

      This is one place where Apple, Android and Windows fanboys all find common ground, and all three companies are standing side by side trying to keep the spooks out of our sexts and grocery lists.

      1. Neil Alexander

        Re: all three companies are standing side by side trying to keep the spooks out

        I might believe that if Google Hangouts or Skype were also using strong end-to-end encryption, but the fact that my message history in both seem to automatically replicate to a newly signed-in device suggests that my messages are not actually that strongly protected in the first place.

        They can, and should, do better.

  5. Anonymous Blowhard

    "If they think they have problems now trying to get imessages how bad will it be when they have driven every user away from US companies and US based infrastructure?"

    They need to go somewhere that the government is tiny and the taxes are low; so relocate server farms to Greenland* and HQ to the Caribbean?

    * I know Greenland is still a part of Denmark, and taxes are high, but the server farms don't make any money and need to be cool; feel free to reply with improved suggestions TIA!

    1. rh587 Silver badge

      "* I know Greenland is still a part of Denmark, and taxes are high, but the server farms don't make any money and need to be cool; feel free to reply with improved suggestions TIA!"

      Given how much cash Cupertino have parked in Ireland, they could surely just strike a deal with Denmark to buy Greenland and turn it into a tax-free tech-haven? Unlike every other micro-nation attempt, they actually have the resources to have a serious go at making it stick!

      High speed connections to both sides of the Atlantic, efficient data centres, under their own jurisdiction?

      1. Ralph B

        Apple buy Greenland? Might be better to buy Iceland. They're anti-NSA. They've got lots of cool air to cool the servers. Lots of geothermal energy to power them. And with a bit of clever redirection of lava flows they could probably get the island to resemble a giant Apple logo.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          "And with a bit of clever redirection of lava floes they could probably get the island to resemble a giant Apple logo."

          Oi!

      2. Velv
        Coat

        Buy Greenland.

        Buy Iceland

        Given what has been said about money in Ireland, why not just buy Ireland? Probably cheaper than the other two given Arctic oil reserves, and the Irish will be happy if you slip them some cash and some poitin.

    2. storner

      Apple servers in Greenland? Well, actually ...

      Apple is building a new datacenter in Denmark near Viborg.

      Caused a bit of a stir around here, since they officially defined it as a "heat generating factory", so that they could avoid a bit of tax by selling the heat to the local district heating company.

  6. f-bone

    How do we know?

    "Last year QuarksLab researcher Cyril Cattiaux said Apple's control of the key infrastructure meant it could get messages by key interference, however that's a hypothetical scenario and there's no reason to think Apple hasn't kept the faith."

    It is -= possible =- under some lobbying/tax/criminal/terrorism/whatever other pressure Apple would "visit" both "rooms" if they have kept a small window open. This way the customers will think their privacy is totally secure and the FBI, CIA et all will do business as usual. The deal could be from Apple's side to the agencies: "Keep whining about our incredible security (thus making our business look good) and we will give you the info you want from time to time and nobody has to know. Just use it wisely so we don't ridicule our selves."

    I would like to know what would prevent such scenario.

    F.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How do we know?

      It's most likely the case that this is happening. NSA and similar have already demonstrated they will file charges against business owners/senior execs in order to gain access to encrypted messages. eg Lavabit

      It's likely the Apple exec's would silently cave and do this if/when given the same treatment - and they have no legal avenues to alert people. So, it's pretty likely unfortunately. :(

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I know exactly what would prevent such a scenario

      Another Snowden. There's no way the NSA would keep quiet internally about such capability, it would go up on one of those silly Powerpoints that Snowden leaked. There's no way Apple would risk it.

      Remember that on that slide that showed a timeline of tech companies that capitulated, Apple was listed LAST, years after Google, Microsoft and Facebook knuckled under. I'm sure Apple would have preferred Snowden happened a year earlier so they would have been conspicuously absent from that list and they could told everyone they alone stood up for their customer's privacy. They will not make the same mistake again, which is why they are taking this fight so public.

      Obviously Apple haters may believe the worst about them, but the evidence doesn't really support such a scenario.

  7. Dazed and Confused

    Also in the news

    Judge orders King to stop tide

  8. Greg D

    Well...

    Apple should win this, and I really hope they do.

    Otherwise, we're fucked.

    1. ItsNotMe
      Mushroom

      Re: Well...

      "Apple should win this, and I really hope they do. Otherwise, we're fucked."

      Oh don't worry...we're ALL fucked already.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Microsoft

    It's a pity their "telemetry" is eroding the kudos they've been getting from their stance on server sovereignty.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microsoft

      They've decided that since both Apple and Google are now more profitable than they are, and since they were already using Apple's business model (selling stuff at a high margin - software being the highest margin product there is) they needed to also adopt Google's business model of selling out their customers.

      By combining the two strategies Satya believes they will once again be the most profitable company. Too bad it will merely make people look more closely at alternatives such as OS X and Linux to escape the new Windows paradigm of collecting all your data all the time.

  10. Matthew 17

    Assuming they win...

    And Apple have to add in the backdoors (seemingly as Google and MS have done), if the same government agencies then use software provided by the big three, aren't they then at risk of having all their stuff snooped by a hacker/terrorist/commie?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Assuming they win...

      No, cos the agencies use 'Gabriel protocols' obfuscated start-SSH comms developed by SAIC around the year 2000, ( source: lots of court cases on patent infringement as other companies overlap the secret stuff, especially NetEraser et al.)

      On the other hand, surely the 18 us agencies do need to sniff each others' privates as you can't really trust the DIA or the NGA can you?

  11. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The strong encryption genie has been out of the bottle this last couple of decades.

    Assuming we can be confident of at least some of the cipher schemes in the libraries (and there are a good many non-government eyeballs looking at them nowadays) it's not beyond the capabilities of any organised group whom TPTB consider bad actors to roll their own applications. It would have no effect making that illegal: you don't stop people who are already breaking laws by furnishing them with more laws to break. The only effect would be to piss off those people who wish to use encryption for legitimate purposes - the name for those people is spelled V O T E R S.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smart crims are luddites, total paranoia is perfect awareness.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We believe that all the current strong encryption schemes are realistically unbreakable. But governments all over the world employ a lot of code breakers. What do these people do all day if they can't break these codes? Take a pile of messages from their in tray, write "NO" on each one and put it in their out tray? What are their appraisal targets? Try to break at least one message next year? How do you tell a good code breaker from a bad one if they are both equally ineffective?

    The fact that governments employ code breakers suggests that they must provide some value to the government. They must be able to decrypt some of the messages that the government is interested in reading. Otherwise there would be no point in employing them.

    1. Julz

      Traffic analysis.

    2. LucreLout

      @AC

      The fact that governments employ code breakers suggests that they must provide some value to the government. They must be able to decrypt some of the messages that the government is interested in reading. Otherwise there would be no point in employing them.

      Given the number of people designing their own encryption (Some terrorists got busted on this a couple of years back), or buggering up rolling their own implementing of strong encryption, I'd imagine they decrypt plenty of things.

      GCHQ, NSA etc can play a very long game; Not just in terms of finances, but also in terms of multi-generational projects. You want to achieve something as soon as possible, fine, but that may take 50 years to figure out, maybe 100+. That's ok from their perspective because the agency lives forever, even if the staff don't.

      Further to that, I imagine they can do a lot of clever things around message repetition and big data analysis. "I'm on the train" must be one of the most sent SMS messages of all time, and even encrypted, it would have certain characteristics in common - time and location sent from and to - they can disgard the message from further analysis once they've established it'll just be me texting my wife. The more noise they can eliminate will make the signal side of the ratio stronger.

    3. ecarlseen

      Define "value"

      "The fact that governments employ code breakers suggests that they must provide some value to the government. "

      Government uses some very odd values for "value:" bureaucratic inertia, empire building (both figurative bureaucratic and global domination literal), pleasing lobbyists, pandering to voting blocs, etc.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "What do these people do all day"

      I guess that massed FPGA arrays & specialized-silicon ASICs are pretty efficient against SHA3

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A lot of stuff that was once considered unbreakable is not now, due to both advances in computers but also advances in cryptanalysis. They might find a small weakness in something that makes a 128 bit encryption have effectively only 80 bits, and advances in computing can take it from there.

      They also know a lot of things that the public research world do not. For example, how IBM developed DES back in the 70s, the NSA reviewed it and requested several changes without explanation, which IBM made. At the time many assumed these changes were to weaken it so they could crack it, but in the early 90s new techniques were (publicly) discovered that could have cracked DES wide open if the changes the NSA made hadn't been implemented. The NSA was nearly two decades ahead of the research world, at least on that front...how far ahead are they today?

      Who knows, maybe the AES encryption that almost everyone uses today can be broken by the NSA, but they are whining about its use to give everyone a false sense of security. Or maybe they can't break it, but they HOPE you assume they are giving you a false sense of security, so you will decide to use something else that may be weaker :)

  14. DerekCurrie
    Go

    THANK YOU APPLE!

    [Insert Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution HERE]

    Now Apple, how about turning the OS X firewall ON by default? And how about entirely REMOVING 'Open "safe" files after downloading' from Safari? And how about swift, immediate, ASAP patching of security vulnerabilities in OS X and iOS? All of these would be equally helpful to your customers.

    And to FBI director James Comey: We The People rule the USA, NOT any government. We The People run our government. The government serves the people and its wishes. The government does not run the people, despite their wishes. No '1984' scenario is welcome in my country. You've already proven, dear government, that you cannot be trusted. Therefore, deal with the consequences of your deceit.

    1. Bota

      Re: THANK YOU APPLE!

      Do you really believe that Apple aren't partners with the nsa and all of this just small talk to try and re-enforce their public image

      2 facts : you cite the constitution, I'm not sure if you're government use that anymore.

      Finally :

      All agreements between the nsa and u.s are subject to gag orders. You really think all these companies are going to advertise it on their website? I'm not trying to sound like an a hole here, but all u.s tech companies work for "the man". That simple.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Non sequitor alert

      The article discusses privacy, your post is about security. The two are not the same. Apple has a leadership role in privacy, but on the security front they still have a lot of catching up to do...

  15. Arctic fox
    Headmaster

    It is one of the great historical ironies that certain agencies that are tasked with......

    ..........defending the US regard it as their right/duty to piss all over the constitution of their country. How is it that they do not understand that they are on their way to destroying that which they claim they wish to defend?

    1. ItsNotMe
      Black Helicopters

      Re: It is one of the great historical ironies that certain agencies that are tasked with......

      "How is it that they do not understand that they are on their way to destroying that which they claim they wish to defend?"

      Very simple. Arrogance and avarice. All "great civilizations" have fallen, and the likelihood of this one following suit is just a matter of time.

  16. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Stick to anything non US

    US is the greatest threat to freedom and democracy so will continue to stick to using communications with encryption from non US companies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stick to anything non US

      Such as CryptoAG??

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Nope.

    "Isn't that the normal procedure for all left leaning administrations with greater surveillance and oppression the further to the left they are?"

    Nope, it's pretty much US-specific to have two main political parties (and basically no functional 3rd parties) that both effectively act as 1 party. Both parties (per their voting history, not rhetoric) hate freedom and want a huge, intrusive, expensive government; but ask members of either party and the lost rights and huge, intrusive, expensive gov't are all "the other party's" fault.

    "Arctic fox, they're probably American. I get the impression there's a different perception of where the centre is there."

    Yup. The link you linked to sums it up pretty well. You've got two political parties that, well Republicans INSIST the Democrats are all these crazy nut-job left wing hippies, and Democrats INSIST the Republicans are all these right-wing big-wig plutocrats. They, in reality, have EXACTLY the same political views and just split hairs over the most minute details. BOTH insist it's the OTHER PARTIES fault there's so much government spending, will come up with a list of programs to cut, but then have an equally big list of programs they want to ad. Both claim they want freedom and rights, but both* voted for all the things like DMCA, Patriot Act, etc. and seem to race each other to take away rights (while, of course, blaming it all on the other party.)

    *Ron Paul's run as a Republican, and in Congress actually spoke out against all this AND voted against it. But he's not really a Republican, he's a libertarian, he just runs as a Republican due to the US's broken "2 party" (effectively 1 party) system.

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