I have read various articles about the iPhone encryption case, they all ‘cherry pick’ the facts they use. When you actually put all of the information on the table you end up with a very complex situation.

The thumbnail story is the FBI are in possession of a phone that was in the possession of a terrorist. The FBI are unable to gain access to the data on the phone, but they also admit that they have no idea if the phone contains any useful data. Apple on the other hand are saying that what the FBI is actually doing is asking Apple to create a ‘back door’ that the Government can then use to break into other iPhones with impunity, thus negating the whole point of the security system.

Who is right and who is wrong? The answer is both sides, but neither are exactly telling the truth. And as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Lets look at some of those details.

The phone was in the possession of Syed Rizwan Farook one of the San Bernardino terrorists that killed 14 people for no apparent reason at a company Christmas party. No-one disputes this fact. The phone was actually his ‘work’ phone and provided to him by his employer the San Bernardino County Department of Health. Farook is dead, and not even the owner of the phone, so surely the case should be the San Bernardino County Department of Health V Apple?

What are Apple being asked to do? The phones actually has two layers of security. The data is encrypted, and the user has 10 attempts to get the correct password before the data is ‘toast’.

It is this second aspect that has the FBI with their knickers in a knot. According to court records (I have not read), they are not asking Apple to decrypt the data, just remove the 10 attempts at getting the password correct. The intent is clear, they want to ‘brute force’ the password. The FBI, CIA, and certainly the NSA are more than capable of this task. It might take 10s of millions of attempts, it might take a few hours, or days, depending on a number of factors. A big one being any delay in entering the next attempt Apple has engineered into the code and the basic speed that the phone physically can give a Yes/No answer.

These problems are easy to fix, but it all comes back to Apple removing this 10 attempt barrier.

Where is the danger? The FBI are not asking for the keys to the castle. Merely that an irksome wart be removed for this single device. The danger is that if the government get their hands on the wart remover they can use it time and time again.

That was evidenced in some of the Snowden revelations, the NSA being the great upholders of privacy and security released the Duel Elliptical Curve algorithm, (fancy name for a random number generator) used in many encryption products. It was skillfully crafted, but contained a backdoor that gave the NSA a leg up in dealing with the pesky problem of reading peoples mail when the people did not want them to.

The “I have nothing to hide” scenario. I am sure that very few of us have much to hide. Sure I have made a few snarky comments about my wife (who I love dearly) over the years. Her lack of appreciation of good music and good food irks me, but it is hardly a matter of national security.

So back to the iPhone debacle. Farook must have been a pretty inept terrorist if he was using his work phone for nefarious purposes. The potential value of the data on it loses value with each passing day. That of course is assuming that there was any value to begin with.

It is my theory that the FBI really do not give a rats ass about this phone, but it makes for the perfect test case. There are 12 other cases involving the same issue, but this is the one where the FBI can expect some sympathy from the man in the street.

What are your thoughts?

Simon Barrett

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