back to article FBI, Apple continue cat-and-mouse game over iPhones in New York

Despite walking away from a high-profile confrontation, the FBI is not giving up on its cat-and-mouse game with Apple over access to iPhone data, and the issue has now moved to New York. On Friday, the Feds appealed a decision last month by a Brooklyn magistrate, James Orenstein, to reject their demand that Apple help them …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Well.. at least some lawyers will be gainfully employed for a long time. I don't see Congress being able to do much given that it's election season and it will take some time to get one of these to the Supreme Court. The choice we techies have is to sit back and watch.... popcorn anyone?

    1. Ole Juul

      and the winner is . . .

      "I don't see Congress being able to do much"

      Regardless of it being election season, it isn't them that's going to decide in the end. It is the software community. New ways will be found to circumvent anything lawmakers decide anyway. And that's how it will ever be.

      1. bri

        @ Ole Juul

        Too optimistic a view. Software community can overcome reasonable problems within 'the game'. However, legislature defines its rules and what is defined as 'breaking'.

        This must be stopped cold ASAP (or massively watered down), this is a disaster in making.

        1. Ole Juul

          Re: @ Ole Juul

          "Too optimistic a view."

          I see how you would think so, and I agree with the rest of your post. I didn't mean to sound optimistic though. I'm very pessimistic about this situation and suggest that all we do, even though we need to do it, will be for nothing in the end. These governments are on a track to shut down any free speech and related freedoms, that it will be very many years before the people regain control through legal means.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Morton's Fork

    Let's see.

    You told the court in California that you no longer need Apple's assistance because you've acquired this tool that allows you to break into iPhones.

    You told the court in New York that you need Apple's assistance because you can't break into iPhones without it.

    To which court were you telling the truth?

    And BTW, all those folk who said the San Bernadino case was just a one-off - are you still sure about that?

    1. MrTuK

      Re: Morton's Fork

      Well anybody with any common sense (This excludes all Americans) knew this was not just about one case but setting a precedent to force Tech companies to do what the FBI want !

      I'd like to see them try and force whatsapp to handover any data when its a peer-to-peer encryption !

      So I can see peer-to-peer encryption being the Tech future's norm !

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Morton's Fork

        Yank here and I never believed the feral's lies in the People's Republic of California or the in the current case. The feral's are precedent shopping so they can side step America's Native Criminal Class (aka Congress).

        An upvote following HL Mencken's observation about the dimness of too many over here ("No one ever went broke by underestimating the tastes of the average American")

      2. Jeffrey Nonken

        Re: Morton's Fork

        Excludes *all* Americans? Seriously? Try reading Techdirt.

        For that matter, seems to me that Apple is an American company. Your claim doesn't pass the laugh test.

    2. Deltics

      Re: Morton's Fork

      They acquired a tool that allowed them to break into *some* iPhones. The one in California was one of the "some" and the request for assistance was explicitly and specifically limited to the one device. The exploit they have now found as a result of being refused that assistance is NOT limited, so arguably as the result of the lack of co-operation by Apple the enforcement agencies now have their hands on a more general tool than the specific one they were asking for help with (in a way that was and could only ever by applied to that one device).

      Meanwhile, the phone in New York was never one of the ones that are part of the "some".

      You see, this is why I have a hard time believing that the opposition to the law enforcement agencies is based on intelligent thought or possession of pertinent facts because posts such as this exhibit an abundant absence of any such thing.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge


        It isn't the tool they wanted, it was the possibility to force Apple to break a phone model.

        Once they obtain that right, they will then work to enlarge it to all models now and in future.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Notice Android?

    Notice the lack of fight over access to Android? Not from FBI, not from NSA, not from the Chinese, or the Russian, not from anyone. There's no angry spy agencies demanding access to Google's Android phones, no carefully chosen show trials from the FBI, or MET.

    I bet in the UK, they don't even need a warrant, one of those 'RIPA' letters written by a policeman probably gets all your private data into Theresa May's snooperbase. All courtesy of Googles surveillance addiction*.

    So Apple has won so far, and protects its customers even from foreign and domestic government reach-arounds. But Google? Well they'll quietly doing what they're doing now with no change.

    * A quick search reveals the Police hide behind the data protection act to hide what they're doing with RIPA requests. Which means self regulation in secret, outside of the Judiciary and Parliament. I bet they're using it for live data feeds to private databases.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Notice Android?

      Android - you can read everything while the phone is on.

      The chipsets in most Android phones grant the radio controller full DMA access to the phone memory and it is "upgradeable" over the air interface. So you do not need to use a "legal nuke" on the phone vendor, you can use your existing cosy relationship with the mobile carrier.

      Apple has bolted down this hole by design and you cannot do an over-the-air radio "upgrade", that is why we see requests for "assistance" from Apple and not from major Android phone vendors.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pretty weak position for the FBI here

    The only thing they have going for them is "we know Apple can help us out here on this iOS 7 device, because they have previously", since Apple made big changes in how they manage their encryption with iOS 8 that made their past cooperation with court orders no longer possible.

    So this low level meth dealer has pled guilty, and the FBI wants to go on a fishing expedition hoping to find information about other dealers or customers on his phone, and is using that fishing expedition to try to set a precedent for the All Writs Act hoping to leverage that into eventually forcing Apple to hack their own devices like they wanted in the previous case.

    This just fuels the fire even more for Apple to 1) make it so they can't hack their own phones even with a court order by shutting down DFU updates and 2) make it so every bit of iCloud data is encrypted with a user controlled key so they cannot turn anything over there even with a court order. I say good on them, the FBI can go fuck themselves.

    The outcome of this case doesn't matter, Apple and the FBI will fight it to the Supreme Court, but the time a decision is reached Apple will have made it so they cannot access any data whether they want to or not. The FBI will go whining to congress, and congress will have to see what public opinion is about making a law that forces Apple to create a hole in the protection they have set up, so that the FBI can catch minor street dealers. While they're at it, they should make it illegal for old school dealers and numbers runners who carry a black book with customer information to use codes, because those codes are like encryption in that they force the poor slobs sitting on their fat asses at the FBI to actually do real police work for a change!

    Given the public opinion was roughly divided in a case about terrorism I can't see the public supporting such a law, and every tech company will be against it, and business leaders and Wall Street will fret about what it would do to our tech economy. A few people in the pockets of the FBI/CIA/NSA like Feinstein and Burr might support it, but the rank and file never will.

    1. Velv

      Re: Pretty weak position for the FBI here

      " shutting down DFU updates "

      I think we should be careful about what we prescribe as the "fix" for the challenge. There are many good reasons why it might be necessary for Apple to assist a person to access the hardware and content using a particular technical method, e.g. a failed update, a company owned phone, the owner being deceased and the family rightfully requiring access.

      The issue is not technical. The issue is the government demanding access to private information, and their right or not to make such demands. Technical workarounds will fail - if the government has the power, they will use it, and they will penalise anyone who obstructs them irrespective of reality. We need to make sure they never get the power.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Pretty weak position for the FBI here

        My proposed solution to both the "lawful examination" request and the "dead relatives' phone" problem is to make the key readable by physical means: by desoldering a chip, grinding off its top and scanning the silicon with an electron microscope to read the bits back.

        That way its not usable remotely, quickly, or cheaply. Just like old-school investigations that time & cost would focus its use to cases that really matter, and would not be viable for mass surveillance, fishing extraditions, etc.

  5. scrubber

    If at first you don't succeed...

    They tried the terrorist angle.

    Now they're going for drug dealer/gang banger.

    I guarantee the next one is an alleged paedophile's phone.

    That's the big 3 they always try to scare you with to give up your freedoms meekly and unquestioningly.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: If at first you don't succeed...

      @scrubber - The meta data tells who was contacted (or the phone numbers at least). Any competent flat-foot (all 5 of them) would know that these numbers need to be run down and the owners/users contacted and questioned. The angle is "how do you know x" and "why would x and you be in communication". So will roll and talk.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: If at first you don't succeed...

      I think the bigger concern is that the "just one iPhone" is turning into multiple proceedings. Even if the FBI gets slapped down in court each time, they could simply wage a war of attrition until they finally get their way. Even Apple is likely to baulk at the cost and distraction of fighting dozens of lawsuits simultaneously.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New law

    All passwords to become: 1234

    - Court order

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Moving off shore

    If the Govt force a precedent or a law change through congress then all tech firms with interest in international trade and a security product will HAVE to close all their offices in the USA and move to a safe location. i suggest that the big tech firms get together and spend some petty cash buy an island just outside USA control. ( preferably a self governing island so they can make their own laws)

    1. BugabooSue

      Re: Moving off shore

      A nice idea! But... will soon be invaded by the USA (with maybe a coalition consisting of the UK, and a few other oppressive countries/USA-brown-nosers), all in the name of searching for "Weapons of Mass Destruction," "removing an Oppressive Regime," "Protecting Oil Supplies," or some other convenient excuse...

      ...And, we are all back to where we started - up Shit Creek without a paddle.

      Or, President Trump will just nuke it. You know - just to show us Privacy-Loving Liberal Pussies who the Real Boss is - "The Donald!!"

      (Who will then hopefully find out what it's like to have the un-greased long arm of the Security Services inside your Back Door!)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Moving off shore

      "the big tech firms get together and spend some petty cash buy an island just outside USA control."

      US relations with Cuba seem to be thawing a little. Cuba as the new tech powerhouse of the Americas would be...erm....ironic :-)

    3. Oengus

      Re: Moving off shore

      i saw something over the weekend about legislation that had just been passed in the US blocking companies from merging with other companies and moving off-shore. Pfizer were saying that the legislation was passed to effectively block their merger with an Irish company and moving off-shore. It would probably have a similar effect on tech companies trying to move off-shore.

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Moving off shore

        It was not new legislation but using existing admin state regulations to block the merger. I think they did try to address the tax implications of the merger but think there were other important issues such as the combined size of the new entity.

  8. Herby

    Looks like Scott McNealy was right...

    A quick search will yield the proper quote.

    The problem is that this time it will be government required.

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