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FBI director fires back, argues that iPhone hack demand is ‘about the victims and justice’

Published Feb 22nd, 2016 9:36AM EST
FBI Vs. Apple

The spat between the FBI and Apple over access to an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists continues to rage on with no end in sight. Apple, of course, has shown no indication that it’s willing to even consider complying with the FBI’s request. In a memo sent out to Apple employees on Monday, CEO Tim Cook reaffirmed his belief that acquiescing to the FBI’s demands would set a “dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.”

The FBI, meanwhile, is trying to frame the debate in a completely different light. In a blog post penned by James Comey, the FBI director writes that the San Bernardino litigation has nothing to do with trying to set a precedent for future cases and instead is about “the victims and justice”

FROM EARLIER: This is the full internal memo Tim Cook just sent to Apple employees on the FBI war

Comey writes that the victims of the December terrorist shooting are owed a full and thorough investigation. What’s more, Comey writes that the FBI in no shape or form is seeking some sort of master key that would provide it unfettered access to every iPhone on the planet.

“The particular legal issue is actually quite narrow,” Comey explained in a post originally published on Lawfare. “The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it.

“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” Comey continued. “I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead. ”

Interestingly enough, Apple told reporters over the weekend that if the Apple ID associated with the shooter’s iPhone hadn’t been changed, the FBI may have been able to access the data it believes its missing. From Apple’s vantage point, it has no problem giving the FBI data it already has, but as Tim Cook noted in his widely circulated letter last week, the company draws the line at creating an entirely new version of iOS.

“In the wrong hands,” Tim Cook explained, “this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”

For a unique perspective on this ongoing battle, don’t miss our earlier exclusive post: Legendary iPhone hacker weighs in on Apple’s war with the FBI

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.