Apple files official motion to vacate FBI court order to help unlock iPhone

Rob Attrell

February 25, 2016 8:13pm

In case you haven’t been following Apple news for the past couple of weeks, the company has been thrown into a legal battle with the American FBI over an iPhone and its encryption. The FBI has filed a court order to get Apple’s help to crack the security on an iPhone 5c involved in a mass shooting last fall, in order to extract any potential intelligence contained on the locked device.

So far, all signs in this case point to the FBI hoping to set legal precedent for getting Apple’s aid in bypassing security features on its devices, despite Apple’s best efforts to keep its users information safe in the event of such requests. This case is very complicated, and for some background on the story, I would strongly recommend Ben Thompson’s post on Stratechery on the matter.

Today, Apple has filed a motion to vacate the court order, in other words an official appeal that the order be dropped. The dense 65 page document outlines the legal implications of the case from Apple’s perspective, which purports that creating special software to help the FBI unlock this device would undermine security and privacy of all iOS users.

Interestingly, the FBI says it is only looking to use this power on the one iPhone in question, but in the last couple of days it has become clear that there are at least a dozen other iPhones from other cases that the FBI eventually hopes to access as well. This makes Apple’s argument that the case isn’t just about ‘one isolated phone’ much stronger.

At the moment, these are likely just the first steps in a long court battle between Apple and the FBI, but numerous tech companies have shown solidarity with Apple in this debate. It’s unclear exactly how the results of this case would affect iPhones in Canada and around the world, but the security of the iPhone, and all software, could be thrown into question should this court order be upheld.

SourceThe Verge
  • Cory Pereira

    Yes

    • Corcodel S Mikeling

      no!

  • Jonah Emery

    I guess I take the unpopular belief that law enforcement should be able to access smartphones with a valid warrant issued by a judge – just as they already can now with landlines, credit card transactions, and even our social media / cloud data. I am in NO way in favour of indiscriminate access, back doors, or authorities hacking into services but warrants under civilian oversight are needed to protect society sometimes.

    • It’s Me

      And they have the phone and may do whatever they like with it. They have the right granted by court order. What they lack is the ability and capability to get the access they want. The dispute is whether the manufacturer or anyone else should be compelled to dismantle the security for them even if it risks effectively removing security for all and/or setting a precedent of requiring government access. It’s cliche but it’s really a bit of Pandora’s box. It’s not black and white.

    • Mr Dog

      Would you be ok with the FBI, walking in and out of your house as they please with warrant?

      That is what this is about?! They say it’s one case but IT is most definitely not, it will force EVERY manufacture to unlock a phone as the FBI feels is required without any questions in the future. It is the Precedent!

    • hoo dat

      UM, but that’s what happens every day: Bad guys do things, warrants are issued, houses and property (in sight) are searched and evidence is gathered and yet we let this go on without ever batting an eyelid. And yet when it comes to our devices we kick up a stink.
      I’m not suggesting for 5 seconds that I support the FBI’s application but warranted searches of physical property happen every single minute of every single day and are a fact of our daily life.
      In Toronto? Read up on the Tim Bosma trial and see how many properties, including computers and other devices, were searched with legitimate warrants in that case.
      I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate here but what makes digital property any more sacred than physical property?

    • Mr Dog

      No I understand that part but a phone is different from a house.

      In a house you can see when someone goes through it and what they do. In a phone someone can have access to everything you do and you wont know. I know this case is just for unlocking the phone but that doesnt matter it is the precedent. Allowing them to unlock this phone will just open up the doors to so many other things.

      I guess its similar to them spying on your home.

    • It’s Me

      They are allowed to unlock it. That’s that not the issue. Their problem is that though they are allowed, they claim the cannot do it with Apple. So they want Apple to cripple and/or circumvent their security mechanisms. They effectively want to set a precedent that allows them to order forced backdoors.

    • Jonah Emery

      I am OK with law enforcement entering my home with a valid warrant issued by a judge.

    • Mr_Smoosh

      The FBI is doing this to set precedent to get this exact back door. They already have back ups of the phone from icloud, and it was a civil servant who changed a password, on the FBI’s instruction, that got them in this mess.

      The criminals were smart enough to destroy their personal phones and computers, yet this work phone survives….nothing fishy about that at all.

    • Mo Dabbas

      I don’t think it’s a simple thing to judge. If it’s a one time use, then it shouldn’t matter. But the fear is that this backdoor software may be misused or eventually reaching hackers or a terrorist group. So there’s no fast answer to this.

    • Jonah Emery

      I would conceive a single phone unlocking lab at Apple where law enforcement could send relevant devices, again with a warrant issued by a judge. No reason to give FBI the tool at all, or have it become public. With proper controls their is no reason for the software to even leave the lab. Instead of giving a cracked iPhone back – Apple could just had over all the data.

  • Mr_Smoosh

    I am by no means an apple fan, but it’s stuff like this that would get me to buy an apple. I’m not naive enough to think Tim is doing this for morality’s sake, but they are sticking to their guns.

    For this interested in this story ars technica has printed many stories on this. It’s good reading.

  • Mo Dabbas

    I think apple is playing hardball for PR stuff. Well played Tim. You brought some press to your company. But this isn’t Samsung this time you’re up against in court so don’t expect victory this time around.

    On another note, I find it funny that Trump first said he’ll make apple make the iphone all made in USA (to make all American), but after this incident he’s calling to boycott the company until they follow the court order. Lol. As a matter of fact, it seems all Republican candidates were siding against apple on this one in yesterday’s debate (I didn’t watch the debate but tons of articles about that are online).

    • Brad Fortin

      The FBI were the first ones to take this public, not Apple. This PR storm is all the FBI’s doing, in the hopes of getting the public on their side so they can establish the precedent they want.

  • This all seems like a publicity stunt to save face in front of people as security becomes a “little” more important. The FBI will get what they want, as they always do.

    This long dance for us is just to show how long they held out and would hold out if it was us. Because regular people worried about their nudes and CC info going viral have to worry about FBI searching their belongings due to possible ties to IS.

    • It’s Me

      Not sure how much good PR could be expected since they would have to know the FBI would say “they are on the side of terrorists”. I don’t think this is a fight Apple wanted publicly, PR or not.

    • It’s free publicity and they look like freedom fighters of personal information. When they hand over what the FBI needs, they will look like tech company that fights terrorism. This is a great position they’re in PR wise.

      By holding out, it has become wide spread and makes it look like more of a mountain than the mole hill that it is.

    • It’s Me

      Given law enforcement would, as the always to in the cases, say that refusal puts you on the side of terrorists, child molesters and murderers, it’s a horrible PR move in many ways.

    • They will but no one will remember that statement at the end. They will remember the Struggle Apple gave and in the end that Apple helped the FBI with a “customized” solution.

      Everything in between is dialog for daily readers on Bloomberg and nothing else.

  • Crossed

    America:
    Fall for the American dream, get robbed while awake.
    No healthcare, no education, no problem!

  • h2oflyer

    Years ago the FBI got a faxed copy of phone logs from land lines. Why can’t they turn the phone over to Apple and get the locked phone back with screen shots of the information they need.

    • Brad Fortin

      Not that easy.

      The phone’s locked with a passcode, and after 10 attempts at the wrong passcode, each with a longer time delay (longest is 4 hours), the phone will wipe itself for security reasons, and guess have to be done on the touchscreen, not through the connector. What the FBI wants Apple to do is build a custom version of iOS (“govOS”) that allows unlimited guesses with no time delay that can be done via the connector, allowing a computer unlimited guesses at the password.

      There’s a few problems with this, which are covered by Ben Thompson’s post on Stratechery (linked in the story above).

    • h2oflyer

      I understand, let Apple develop the back door in their house on the suspected phone without the FBI present and give them the information only.

    • Brad Fortin

      That would require that a large team of developers be pulled off the iOS development team, which would present an unreasonable burden for Apple under the All Writs Act that the FBI is citing.

      It would also set a precedent: The FBI says it’s only about this 1 phone but they already have another dozen or so phones they want unlocked as soon as the San Bernadino case is over. This would create an even more unreasonable burden as Apple would have to make a new version of govtOS for each device any law enforcement agency wants to unlock.

      It also means that other law enforcement agencies, both domestic and foreign, would want the same treatment. The NYPD already has ~200 phones it also wants Apple to unlock. What about when China asks for the same thing? Russia? Sudan? South Africa? Kosovo?

      The code created to unlock one of the iPhones will eventually make its way into government hands, and then all someone has to do is break into the government’s servers (again) and then any person or organization can get into any iPhone.

  • thomas nguyen

    I’m on the fence about this, the only thing that is swaying me one way or the other is the fact that the FBI has even acknowledge that there is a slim chance there is anything important in the phone, but they just want to be 100% sure… this is not grounds to have the phone unlocked for a feeling or slim chance.

  • Ipse

    FBI is using this particular case to gain popular sympathy for their request, because of the impact the tragedy had on American public.
    BUT…there are zero chances that any meaningful information exists on this particular phone, as the terrorists took time to destroy what they considered valuable info: their PERSONAL phones and laptop. Remember this is the guy’s WORK phone.
    Secondly, shouldn’t the carrier have the list of calls and messages (same as in old landline days)? 100% sure FBI already has that…so what else do they hope to find? Encrypted messages? Pictures?

    This is all about establishing a precedent.

  • fruvous

    So, the FBI changed the iCloud password after Apple tells them not to. Now they want Apple to clean up their mess? Pu-lease

  • Omar

    Keeping in mind I would say this about any mobile phone company besides BlackBerry who did the same thing, this is simply PR on Apple’s part. The FBI will likely get what they want, it’s America, after all… But this way, Apple looks like their fighting for all of us, when in reality they know if they did as the FBI requested without a fight, they would be the centre of the outcry over this thing. Brilliant move by them .