Made in the USA Back in the USA
Join Back in the USAContact Back in the USAAbout Back in the USANews and Articles from Back in the USABack in the USA Manifesto
Search Back In The USA:

Sign up for our newsletter
Twitter  Facebook  G+

 Lincoln Logs Made in the USA

 Made in USA Carts and Wagons, Alumacart

 Made in USA Air Purifiers

 Made in USA flatware, forks, knives, spoons, liberty tabletop

  Back in the USA Back in the USA Articles Cartoons Back in the USA Editorial Back in the USA New Tech Back in the USA Vintage America  

The FBI vs. Apple: Privacy and Public Safety Collide

Written By: A. Wilt

Apple, the FBI, andSyed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik
February 2016

On December 2, 2015, married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik attacked a San Bernardino Department of Health holiday party with semiautomatic rifles, 9 mm semi-automatic pistols, and an attempted bombing. Their attack killed 14 people and injured 22. After the attack, the couple fled and were later killed in a shootout with police.

On February 3, 2015, the FBI opened a counterterrorism investigation into the attack, with FBI Director, James Comey, calling it an act of two "homegrown violent extremists" and uncovering evidence that the couple had been radicalized, as well as speaking of jihad as early as 2013.

The investigation has led to a tense standoff between law enforcement and one of the most popular companies in the world, Apple, Inc.

How is Apple Caught Up in This?

Apple verses the FBI
The iPhone used by Malik, was owned by the San Bernardino Dept. of Public Health, and it was issued to him as an employee. The FBI seized the phone as part of a search following a warrant issued on December 3, 2015.

The owner of the phone, the Dept. of Public Health has given its consent for the phone to be searched and has given its permission for Apple to assist in the search of the phone.

However, due to Apple's security features on iOS 7 and above, the FBI has been unable to search the phone.

Apple's Encryption

Apple uses a two pronged system to protect data and lays out it security features in its Security Guide. The hardware on each individual device is secured with a code specifically for each iPhone. In addition to that code, there is a user PIN, which is known only to the user and is not known to Apple. Without both numbers, the phone is impossible to decrypt.

Beyond those two security codes, Apple has written one security feature into its operating system that is hindering the government's investigation. If an incorrect PIN is entered more than 10 times, the operating system will automatically erase all data on the device, meaning that the FBI cannot just use a pin code entry program to attempt brute unlocking of the device by essentially guessing possible PIN combinations.

The Investigation

FBI investigators say that they have been able to obtain the cloud backup from the phones, but that the last backups were done six weeks prior to the attack, leaving a gap in the information investigators have been able to piece together about the lead up to the attack.

In the court filing requesting a court order for Apple to assist agents by unlocking the phone encryption, the US Attorney's office explained the situation:

"This [lack of cloud backup] indicates to the FBI that Farook may have disabled the automatic iCloud backup function to hide evidence, and demonstrates that there may be relevant, critical communications and data around the time of the shooting that has thus far not been accessed, may reside solely on the SUBJECT DEVICE, and cannot be accessed by any other means known to either the government or Apple."

The FBI does not know what information the phone contains, if it contains anything at all. One piece of information they are attempting to determine is who Malik and Farook may have been in contact with up to and during the attack. There is some evidence that they were in contact with someone because at 11:14 on the day of the attack, Malik posted a declaration of loyalty to ISIL on Facebook.

The FBI is seeking Apple's assistance in unlocking its security features so that they can attempt to use a passcode breaking program to access the phone. The FBI has proposed that Apple could write software for the phone that would override the security and allow them to attempt passcode breaking on the phone, but claim that they themselves are unable to write it and that it must come from Apple.


The Federal Governments order to unlock Apple's Iphone


The US Attorney's office is arguing that the All Writs Act, an act passed in the infancy of our country, is applicable in this matter and gives them the legal precedent to obtain the requested order.

The Act gives the Courts the ability to grant "all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law."

This is not the first time the government has attempted to use the All Writs Act. They also used that line of argument in a case involving drug trafficking, which is still pending.

On Tuesday, February 16th, Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to the FBI in this matter.

Apple's Resistance

Almost immediately, Apple declared that it did not intend to follow the order and would be filing an appeal. On February 17th, 2016, Apple posted a "Message to Our Customers" outlining its opposition to the order.

In the message, Apple outlines the need for encryption and security, explaining that consumers store a lot of information on their phones. Apple also characterizes the FBI's request as requesting a "backdoor" to the data, explaining:

"Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession."

This argument is nothing new. While it may have taken different forms, essentially Apple (and other tech companies) want to protect privacy and law enforcement wants more access to information.

There is also a financial cost to complying with the Judge's order. Apple claims that the program the FBI is seeking does not exist at this time, which means that it would be taking the same engineers that designed that security and spending their time breaking down their previous work by weakening that security. There is a cost to Apple in the terms of the time used to create the software, the cost associated with devaluing their security, and the hit they could take from customers who value privacy.

What's Next?
Apple argues that the FBI is abusing the All Writs Act, rather than seeking a Congressional Act that would extend its authority.

Such an Act might not be that far in the future. Senators Richard Burr and Diane Feinstein have both expressed, in recent months, that they would pursue legislation to force tech companies to help to government in cases like this.

Richard Burr pointed to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act as requiring phone companies to comply with wiretap orders. In 2004 the FCC also interpreted it as applying to Internet Service Providers, but as of today, it still excludes "edge providers" like Apple and Google, who sell encrypted devices, but do not sell internet access itself.

In his editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Burr wrote:

"Technology has outpaced the law," Burr wrote. "The core statute, [CALEA], was enacted in 1994, more than a decade before the iPhone existed…The time has come, for Congress and technology companies to discuss how encryption—encoding messages to protect their content—is enabling murderers, pedophiles, drug dealers and, increasingly, terrorists."

The case with Apple has taken the encryption privacy versus public safety debate from being an abstract discussion into a hard reality with no easy answers. Ideally, there would be a way to obtain a balance between the two needs, but for the moment, both sides appear to be holding firm.


28 U.S. Code 1651 - Writs. (n.d.). Retrieved from Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute.

A Message to Our Customers. (2016, Febraury 16). Retrieved from

Barrett, D., Yadron, D., & Wakabayashi, D. (2014, November 18). Apple and Others Encrypt Phones, Fueling Government Standoff. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal.

Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. (n.d.). Retrieved from Federal Communications Commission.

Farivar, C. (2015, October 21). Faced with an iPhone they can't unlock, cops again turn to Apple for help. Retrieved from ars technica.

Government's Ex Parte Application for Order Compelling Apple Inc., to Assist Agents in Search; Memorandum of Points and Authorities; Declaration of Christpher Pluhar; Exhibit. (2016, February 1). Retrieved from

iOS Security: iOs 9.0 or later. (2015, September). Retrieved from

Paletta, D. (2016, February 18). Senate Panel Chief Decides Against Plan to Criminalize Firms That Don't Decupher Encrypted Messages. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal.


Other Articles of Interest:

Congress Just Made the Internet Tax Free. Permanently?

The Freedom of Information Act: Are We Really Free to Obtain Information?

Dollars for Docs: Busting Out Your Doctor's Side Business

Do You Feel Threatened By the Government? You're Not Alone


And Don't Forget to sign up for our Newsletter with all types of Great Ideas

We produce Stories and Articles about life in America - products made in the USA - to benefit America jobs. Buy American!


Site Map - Service Agreement - Privacy Policy - Terms Of Service
2016 Grassroot Inc. All Rights Reserved

BackintheUSA Brings you products Made in the USA and the US companies who make them.