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Former CIA director calls out the FBI for wanting to fundamentally change the iPhone

Published Mar 11th, 2016 7:30PM EST
Apple Vs. FBI
Image: Apple

The FBI’s demand that Apple create a custom version of iOS that would allow them to hack into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists has Americans firmly divided into two camps. According to a recent poll conducted by NBC and The Wall Street Journal, 42% of respondents said Apple should cooperate with the FBI while 47% of those polled sided with Apple. 11% of respondents, meanwhile, indicated that they weren’t sure which party to side with.

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While this is to be expected given the contentious nature of the issue, it’s interesting to note that former U.S. Government security officials haven’t been so quick to reflexively side with the FBI. For instance, former CIA chief James Woolsey recently explained in an interview on CNBC that the FBI in this case isn’t just interested in accessing information on this particular iPhone. On the contrary, Woolsey articulated that the FBI is looking for the ability to effectively dictate what type of mobile OS Apple is able to release for the iPhone.

“The last time I looked into the language on this with some care, it did seem to me as if the FBI was trying to get a right essentially to effectively decide what kind of an operating system Apple was going to have, and that they were not just trying to get into one phone,” Woolsey said. “They were trying to change some important aspect of Apple’s operating system… The agency should not have the right to restructure Apple’s iOS in perpetuity.”

This is a point Apple has been trying to drive home over the past few weeks; if the FBI is successful in this case, what’s to stop them from demanding Apple to create all sorts of modified versions of iOS in the future.

As Apple noted in its motion to vacate brief filed a few weeks back:

If Apple can be forced to write code in this case to bypass security features and create new accessibility, what is to stop the government from demanding that Apple write code to turn on the microphone in aid of government surveillance, activate the video camera, surreptitiously record conversations, or turn on location services to track the phone’s user? Nothing.

Woolsey’s comments on the issue aren’t too far off from what former NSA and CIA head Michael Hayden had to say on the matter a few weeks back.

“I think [FBI Director] Jim Comey is wrong, Woolsey said in an interview last month. “Jim’s logic is based on the belief that he remains the main body. That you should accommodate your movements to him, which is the main body. And I’m telling you, with regard to the cyber domain, he’s not. You are.”

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert 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.