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Godfather of encryption explains why Apple should help the FBI hack the terrorist’s iPhone

Published Mar 3rd, 2016 1:03PM EST

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Famed cryptographer and Turing Award winner Adi Shamir has an interesting if not surprising take on Apple’s current legal tussle with the FBI. While speaking on a panel at RSA Conference 2016 earlier this week, the man who helped co-invent the vaunted RSA algorithm (he’s the ‘S’ in RSA) explained why he sides with the FBI as it pertains to the San Bernardino shooter’s locked iPhone.

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“It has nothing to do with placing trapdoors on millions of phones around the world,” Shamir explained. “This is a case where it’s clear those people are guilty. They are dead; their constitutional rights are not involved. This is a major crime where 14 people were killed. The phone is intact. All of this aligns in favor of the FBI.”

“Even though Apple has helped in countless cases,” Shamir continued, “they decided not to comply this time. My advice is that they comply this time and wait for a better test case to fight where the case is not so clearly in favor of the FBI.”

Fair points, but the problem here, as Apple has argued time and time again, is that this case doesn’t just involve one iPhone. If the FBI gets its way, Apple argues that there’s nothing to stop the FBI or other law enforcement agencies from requesting that Apple develop all sorts of specialized software designed for particular surveillance purposes.

In fact, FBI director James Comey, while testifying before Congress yesterday, said that the San Bernardino case could be used as a precedent in future cases.

That being the case, Apple is of the position that there’s no wiggle room to wait for a better test case because once it creates specialized software to hack into one locked iPhone, scores of similar requests will instantly come flying through the door.

To this point, Shamir opined:

The FBI is asking Apple to do something very specific… It’s the case of a single phone. Of course it can set a precedent. I’m aware of that. But if you look at the issue carefully, I think that it falls squarely on the side of helping the FBI in one particular case on a particular device, doing something that Apple is capable of doing.

At the same time, Shamir put some of the blame on Apple, chastising the company for having a mobile OS with a loophole capable of being exploited in the first place. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that Apple is already working on developing a new iPhone that would prevent the company from hacking into it even if they wanted to.

Full video of the panel discussion can be viewed below, with Shamir’s remarks beginning at the 13:50 mark.

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.