Technology: Encryption resolution prolongs larger battle
SAN FRANCISCO >> The FBI's victory in breaking into a San Bernardino killer's iPhone without Apple's help merely prolongs a battle over how far the government can go to examine private messages, photos and other files.
"There's a clash of values and interests that I think will continue," said Ed Black, head of Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group whose members include Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
Federal prosecutors have appealed a court ruling that said Apple doesn't have to help them extract data from another iPhone in a New York drug case. Speaking in general, the Justice Department said it will continue seeking digital evidence, "either with cooperation from relevant parties or through the court system when cooperation fails."
After finding its own way to access files on the San Bernardino iPhone, the Justice Department said it no longer needs a court order to force Apple to remove safeguards against guessing that iPhone's passcode. That means Magistrate Sheri Pym won't be ruling on whether a centuries-old law, known as the All Writs Act, provided legal authority for compelling Apple's assistance.
Smaller firms vulnerable?
Some in the tech industry worry that authorities will now try to pursue a smaller company — one without the financial and legal resources that Apple had — to win a favorable legal precedent that authorities could then use to pressure other firms — including heavyweights like Apple.
"When you're a company of five people, you don't have a general counsel's office. You have a card table that everyone sits and codes at," said Morgan Reed, executive director of a tech industry group known as ACT, which represents software application developers.
Although the Justice Department repeatedly insisted that its request for Apple's help applied only to the San Bernardino iPhone, Apple said having to rewrite its iPhone software would make all phones less secure and open the door to more demands from government authorities, both in the United States and other countries.
Tech companies say they turn over the customer data they have, when faced with a legal court order. But many companies are increasingly using encryption and other safeguards that put at least some customer data out of their reach. Companies say they're determined to protect customers' privacy against unwarranted intrusion.
On the flip side, today's popular smartphones contain a wealth of information about their users — who they talk to, where they travel, what they view online — which authorities can use to prosecute suspects, unravel plots and identify accomplices.
"Every case is now a cyber investigation," said Ed McAndrew, a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor now in private practice. "You're going to have electronic devices and technology and online storage in virtually every case."