On Tuesday evening, word spread around the Internet that a federal magistrate in California had ordered Apple to assist the government in, for lack of a better word, “hacking” its own iPhone, specifically an iPhone related to the San Bernardino shootings several months ago. Apple has previously been on record, in federal court, as saying even it cannot access its new “secure” iOS operating system.
Apple likely anticipated this ruling, as within hours, Apple CEO Tim Cook moved the fight from the court of law to the court of public opinion, issuing this public appeal.
The Court of Public Opinion: Potentially a Harsh Mistress
Borrowing from the playbooks of the popular “Serial” podcast, and the more recent and just-as-popular Netflix series “Making a Murderer“, Apple has made a calculated move to take what appears to be a strictly legal battle to the court of public opinion. While outwardly it may seem that this would produce at least a temporary groundswell of support in Apple’s favor, given the public outcry for privacy against government surveillance since the Edward Snowden debacle of 2013, it probably won’t have much impact on Apple’s chances in the courtroom and certainly doesn’t change the text of the All Writs Act of 1789.
In, fact it may produce a backlash against Apple in terms of Apple enabling would-be criminals to “go dark” behind a cloak of encryption. More on that from Brad Reed here. Apple’s PR dollars may be better spent lobbying Congress.
Going back to Mr. Snowden, the high school dropout turned government contractor turned alleged felon, even he has had plenty of his own unsupported speculation to stoke the fire:
Mr. Snowden, as far as we know, has no training in mobile forensics, but does have an undeniable track record of making statements based on partial to little understanding. Snowden fled the United States months before the iPhone 5C was even introduced, so its not likely he has any inside US government information on point. And by the way, private industry is already able to bypass, to some degree, lock codes on many of the devices he describes.
Although, back to that “court of public opinion”, Snowden has a massive following and has been nearly the sole impetus behind the recent “privacy” movement that the US corporate world is pitching to the public. Lets be clear, Apple is a for-profit corporation. Anyone who has shelled out $29.99 for their Apple certified power cable can tell you that.
Secretly, in terms of their level of effort, Apple may not ultimately care whether they are compelled the open the San Bernardino iPhone. It will likely be of negligible impact in terms of technical time and cost. They control what their iOS (the iPhone operating system) does and doesn’t do.
But they do care about profits. And appearances (which also impact profits). So, they have every incentive to wage this legal war as publicly as possible and run the issue to ground, so they’ll be seen as sticking up for the little guy against Big Surveillance. And you’ll keep buying their products.
Wait, one more thing. How has APPLE historically handled user data themselves? Let’s look back:
“Why and How Apple is Collecting Your iPhone Location Data”: http://www.wired.com/2011/04/apple-iphone-tracking/
“Apple sued for collecting and selling customers’ personal info”: http://bgr.com/2014/01/20/massachusetts-apple-lawsuit-apple-accused-of-collecting-zip-codes/
“Siri’s Flaw: Apple’s Personal Assistant Leaks Personal Data”: http://blog.trendmicro.com/trendlabs-security-intelligence/siris-flaw-apples-personal-assistant-leaks-personal-data/
Hmm. Its possible Apple has us focused on the lesser of our privacy problems.