Apple must help US hack San Bernardino killer’s phone, judge says

ByPamela Geller on February 16, 2016
24 Comments
san bernardino bodies

The FBI can’t access the intel on the phones of the mass jihad murderers in San Bernardino. This act of jihad is almost two months old — the trail is cold.

“Apple must help FBI hack San Bernardino killer’s phone, judge says,” February 16, 2016,  Associated Press:

FBI searching for missing hard drive in San Bernardino probe

san bernardino

WASHINGTON – A U.S. magistrate ordered Apple Inc. on Tuesday to help the Obama administration hack into an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in the December attack in San Bernardino, California, in a first-of-its-kind ruling that pits digital privacy against national security interests.

The ruling by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, a former federal prosecutor, requires Apple to supply highly specialized software the FBI can load onto the county-owned work iPhone to bypass a self-destruct feature, which erases the phone’s data after too many unsuccessful attempts to unlock it. The FBI wants to be able to try different combinations in rapid sequence until it finds the right one.

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The decision gives the Justice Department a significant victory in an entrenched technology policy battle, as more-powerful encryption services threaten the ability of federal agents to uncover important evidence in criminal or terrorism cases. The Obama administration, which has embraced stronger encryption as a way to keep consumers safe on the Internet, had struggled to find a compelling example to make its case.

The ruling Tuesday tied the problem to the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in a Dec. 2 shooting at a holiday luncheon for Farook’s co-workers. The couple later died in a gun battle with police.

Federal prosecutors told the judge in a court application Tuesday that they can’t access a work phone used by Syed Farook because they don’t know his passcode and Apple has not cooperated. Under U.S. law, a work phone is generally the property of a person’s employer. The judge told Apple to provide an estimate of its cost to comply with her order, suggesting that the government will be expected to pay for the work.

Apple has provided default encryption on its iPhones since 2014, allowing any device’s contents to be accessed only by the user who knows the phone’s passcode.

The Cupertino, California-based company did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press asking about the case.

The order requires that the software Apple provides be programmed to work only on Farook’s phone, but it was not clear how readily that safeguard could be circumvented. The order said Apple has five days to notify the court if it believes the ruling is unreasonably burdensome.

It also was not immediately clear what investigators believe they might find on Farook’s work phone or why the information would not be available from third-party service providers, such as Google or Facebook, though investigators think the device may hold clues about whom the couple communicated with and where they may have traveled.

The couple took pains to physically destroy two personally owned cell phones, crushing them beyond the FBI’s ability to recover information from them. They also removed a hard drive from their computer; it has not been found despite investigators diving for days for potential electronic evidence in a nearby lake.

Farook was not carrying his work iPhone during the attack. It was discovered after a subsequent search. It was not known whether Farook forgot about the iPhone or did not care whether investigators found it.

The phone was running the newest version of Apple’s iPhone operating system, which requires a passcode and cannot be accessed by Apple, unlike earlier operating systems or older phone models. San Bernardino County provided Farook with an iPhone configured to erase data after 10 consecutive unsuccessful unlocking attempts. The FBI said that feature appeared to be active on Farook’s iPhone as of the last time he performed a backup.

The California judge didn’t spell out her rationale in her three-page order, but the ruling comes amid a similar case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

In that case, Magistrate Judge James Orenstein has not yet decided whether the government can compel Apple to unlock an iPhone under the same 18th century law applied to the California case. The All Writs Act has been used to compel a party to help the government in its law enforcement efforts, but Apple has argued that it is not its role to act as a government agent and that doing so would breach trust with its customers.

Investigators are still working to piece together a missing 18 minutes in Farook and Malik’s timeline from Dec. 2. Investigators have concluded they were at least partly inspired by the Islamic State group; Malik’s Facebook page included a note pledging allegiance to the group’s leader around the time of the attack.

In 2014, Apple updated its iPhone operating system to require that the phone be locked by a passcode that only the user knows. Previously, the company could use an extraction tool that would physically plug into the phone and allow it to respond to search warrant requests from the government.

FBI Director James Comey told members of Congress last week that investigators in the case had been unable to access a phone in the California case but provided no details.

“It is a big problem for law enforcement armed with a search warrant when you find a device that can’t be opened even when a judge says there’s probable cause to open it,” Comey said. “It affects our counterterrorism work. San Bernardino, a very important investigation to us, we still have one of those killers’ phones that we have not been able to open, and it’s been over two months and we’re still working on it.”

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  • jd

    Sigh. Pamela, if I want to send a message or store data neither of which can be read by unauthorized other people nobody, not NSA, FBI, DOJ, or anybody else will be able to read it unless they can find and recover the secret information to read it. Even if Apple builds a backdoor into their encryption, which they have not, the data will still be secure. Tools exist which can do this. Techniques exist which can do this. We simply must learn to live with this state of affairs as best we can. Just as what is seen cannot be unseen that which is invented cannot be uninvented. It’s that simple.

    If you want a back door in encryption you could install it today. Then nothing could be considered safe from even casual prying eyes; and, it would not magically make the encrypted data on those phones readable. Boys call this pissing upwind when you complain about it.

    If there is a backdoor, an escrowed storage for passwords, then who do you trust to hold that escrow? Should the government which promised us to get rid of junk phone calls by legislating it out of business be trusted with this monumental task? They failed something as simple as junk phone calls. They have very thoroughly screwed up healthcare security. They cannot keep their employee data private. They cannot keep your and my data private.

    Would you trust Apple to hold this escrow when the sum total of the data it could crack open is trillions of dollars? Imagine the temptations faced by the custodians of these records. Imagine the bait this is for crackers like the anonymous creeps, imagine governments such as the Chinese government, just imagine how many different people with near infinite time, money., or both at their disposal are after this encrypted data. How long do you think the backdoor or escrow would last without compromise?

    Basically, it just ain’t gonna happen.

    Suppose I want to send a note to you that nobody else can read. Suppose you and I have a same edition and printing of Albert Einstein’s biography. I send you number triplets, page/line/letter. I build the list of triplets for words and punctuation with a simple rule. If the letter is punctuation then use that punctuation. Otherwise the letter starts a word in the message. (Ignore all preceding letters in the word in the book.) I send you the message in open text, no steganography or other encryption need be involved. How is NSA going to read this unless it can guess which edition and printing it was? If either one of us discards the book then subsequent visits to our house looking for such book pairs would come up blank. (Not that I’d want to discard my copy… It holds a letter signed by Einstein himself.)

    I think we’re just going to have to live with encryption. It’s not going away any more than legislating against guns will make them all go away.

    {^_^}

    • harbidoll

      {^_^} cool

    • roger

      If the FBI had a clear run to investigate Muslims more thoroughly they might have had all the information that they needed before the fact, and Obama taking $300 mil. out of anti terror funding is not going to help any.

      • joe1429

        They are allowed to investigate… only with one hand, not two, as per our potus!

    • Josef H

      You are not making any sense. Apple did not have this kind of encryption until iOS8. So how did the world look before that? I guess people were afraid to use their phones, scared to death… We are talking about a recently introduced feature into a mass consumer product which provides the kind of bullet-proof encryption which until that time was available only to the government, hackers, and big corporations. Is it wise to have it on every phone? In the age of growing islamic threat throughout the world, do you really want to restrict law-enforcement that way? This is an Apple gift to global jihad. Something like Angela Merkel opening borders of Europe to everybody who wants to come in.

    • Platopus

      “…that which is invented cannot be uninvented…” not true jd, technology can be lost through time when those who know it pass away… we are turning over so much work to machines that at some point nobody will be able to do anything! Korzybski called it “Time binding” (an awkward complex phrase maybe) but it means that humans pass along what is known from the past and take it into the future thus benefiting from prior research/knowledge. This is one reason why ISLAM seeks to destroy all evidence of other faiths, we should seek to destroy ISLAM as a body of data, it is beyond evil it is harbinger of murder, and mayhem. To promote it is furthering their nightmare.

  • Luigi Valentino
  • Drew the Infidel

    Someone try to convince me what reasonable expectation of privacy a dead jihadist murderer has.

    • ted

      Its not their privacy, its everyone else’s thats the problem.

    • joe1429

      Its nuts!!!! Drop dead apple!!!!!

  • joker

    Apple should do nothing let the authorities do their own job. And for more secure communication and encryption go Linux or BSD.

    • JWM

      I think when someone has committed jihad and murder in America they lose that right to privacy. Particularly when they are dead.

      • Anneke9

        If it were just a question of accessing this particular phone, I might agree. But the Feds are ordering Apple to build the tools to unlock any iPhone… anywhere, anytime. Big mistake.

        • JWM

          That I do not agree with.

  • Patti York

    The whole country has had its’s privacy invaded, we get practically strip searched at the airports. our phones and electronic transmissions can be accessed, we HAVE been spied on by our own government since shortly after 9/11, and STILL they are not able to find and stop these savages.Maybe it’s time for more traditional methods to be used.

  • scocope

    I wonder how new that computer was that the hard drive is missing from? Hopefully they considered that it may have Windows 10 on it (could have been upgraded since August for free and most computers in use are capable of using that OS). Maybe they were using “One Drive” and MS has a lot of their stuff on the cloud and just needs to be asked about it. Only an incompetent investigation would not think of this or one from an Administration that really doesn’t want the full story.

  • Stephen Honig

    The FBI won’t do anything because Obama dictates to them. They are no longer an independent agency that we can depend on to protect us, for fear that Obama will be exposed, just like in Scalia’s death.

    • joe1429

      Yes… people do not understand how much power a potus has. He is insulated, just like a crime family.. he does not need to give the orders, as people do it for him. It works well, when have a good one in office, but when you have a leftist loon like now, it is not good for the people

      • robert owen

        Good point. I say that government, in its’ relatively unrestricted power and its’ immunity to accountability, IS organized crime, at its’ largest and worst.

  • ted

    Let Apple unlock just that phone, not give the FBI the ability to access everybody’s.

    Besides, do you really think they did any jihad stuff on their govt phone, on which you have no expectation of privacy. Typical feds, wasting time and money.

  • Laurence & hopeful

    A Message to Our Customers by Tim Cook
    http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/

    Mr. Cook speaks of encryption, and for people to understand what is at stake.

  • Merchantseamen

    Unfortunately I DO NOT trust the government anymore. I did at one time call me naive. My trust slowly started to evaporate after Reagen. Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2 and Ovomit we all understand but it is the career politicians. The clowns who keep floating into office and doing the same thing over and over. McCain, Schumer comes to mind. Just say’in

  • Platopus

    Where is the FBI’s and Homeland’s, and the Obama Admin’s due diligence in keeping these people OUT OF OUR COUNTRY? They are importing them!

  • joe1429

    What piece of crap the officers, at apple are!! This is nuts, that they are siding with the privacy of these savages!!