• Judge Orders Apple to Help FBI Hack San Bernardino Shooter’s Phone

    February 18, 2016

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America


    A magistrate judge in California on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the FBI retrieve encrypted data on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers. Investigators have so far been unable to gain access to the data on killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, which could contain communications between him and his wife and co-conspirator, Tashfeen Malik, and potentially others, prior to the December 2 shooting rampage that killed 14 people.

    “Prosecutors said they needed Apple’s help accessing the phone’s data to find out who the shooters were communicating with and who may have helped plan and carry out the massacre, as well as where they traveled prior to the incident,” NBC News reports. “The judge ruled Tuesday that Apple had to provide ‘reasonable technical assistance’ to the government in recovering data from the iPhone 5c, including bypassing the auto-erase function and allowing investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords in their attempts to unlock the phone.”

    The court filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” Apple has five days to respond to the ruling.

    Can the Feds Break Into the iPhone?

    Some interesting issues afoot here. First, it appears the FBI cannot figure out a way to bypass Apple’s security feature, the one that bricks the phone after a certain number of unsuccessful login attempts. If Apple modified the phone so an unlimited number of attempts can be made, then the Feds would simply brute force the password, trying potentially millions of combinations.

    Or is it?

    America’s intelligence agencies have so far been unsuccessful in persuading manufacturers and/or Congress to create and pass on to them backdoors around security and encryption. The FBI may indeed know how to get into the iPhone, but wants to make this a public example case — who can complain about learning more about real terrorists (no ambiguity issues), and of course the phone’s owners are dead, and so cannot claim their Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure/privacy are being violated.

    Also of interest would be an Apple claim that while they will cooperate, it is technically impossible to comply with the request, i.e., the phone simply cannot be modified as the FBI wishes. Could a court require Apple to turn over all of their code and engineering documents so that the NSA could have a shot at what Apple said it could not do on its own?

    Equally interesting would be even if Apple can comply this time, would Apple run into future legal issues if they created a next generation phone that truly could not be modified no matter what, making it fully unhackable, even by their own engineers?

    Either way, the suit against Apple sets a precedent, likely making it easier for the Feds to compel cooperation from tech companies in more legally hazy cases in the future.

    Apple Responds

    Apple has vowed to aggressively fight the federal order to unlock the iPhone. CEO Tim Cook published a public response that said “We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

    So the good (?) news is in 2016 we are now depending on a private company to protect our privacy against the wishes of our own government.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Apple is right. This crazy government is the enemy of the people, rotten to the core:

      Obama: “One of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

      Somebody please take the mike away from this clown before he embarrasses himself.

      02/18/16 7:49 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      A glitch Peter. A “private” company like Apple has the same aspirations as the NSA. Faithful and compliant customer- loyal citizen- same thing. Big Brother might end up having a corporate logo not a government seal.

      02/18/16 9:23 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer- Obama only meant his drone program’s targeting imperfections. He is dutifully working on cutting the collateral deaths down to 5%. Hell, that would be exceptional!

      02/18/16 9:29 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...



      If the reports about SKYNET Drone program are accurate, Obama is playing the role of Myles Dyson, the token black guy in Terminator 2- Judgment Day.

      “Dyson listened while the Terminator laid it all down: Skynet, Judgment Day, the history of things to come. It’s not everyday you find out that you’re responsible for three billion deaths. He took it pretty well.”

      02/18/16 10:02 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      Got to count on one of the corporations that routinely harvests our data to keep us safe from the government. And this “test case” is utterly absurd.

      It’s kind of obvious that the FBI and the government simply want to use this case to force new anti-privacy legislation, given that the San Bernadino incident, while horrible, is really a rather small example of possible terrorism. The two who committed the attack are dead, the neighbor who stored guns for them is in jail, and the whole thing seemed to be related as much to a personal rift between the husband and his employer as anything else. It’s doubtful the couple left much evidence behind, even on the phones; and in any case, the entire crime scene from which the police and FBI gathered evidence, including the phones and laptops, was allowed to be ransacked by reporters before the devices were secured. So who can claim that anything found on the phones would not be “fruit of the poisoned tree”?

      What a joke of a case to make the claim that even more governmental intrusion and spying on the citizens is needed.

      And now there are only 8 justices on the Supreme Court, should Tim Cook hold firm and this case go that far. I’ve read some articles which state that any cases decided without a full 9-judge bench could be ruled invalid later.

      Damn. We’re in a tight spot.


      02/18/16 10:28 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      My (incomplete) understanding is that an 8-person court is not invalid, and that a 4-4 tie means the case is returned to the lower court. Gotta do some more research on how this works in case the Repubs actually succeed in blocking the nomination.

      02/18/16 10:32 AM | Comment Link

    • jo6pac said...



      That’s true it goes back to the lower court.

      02/18/16 10:36 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” Apple has five days to respond to the ruling.”

      Five days. And then what? Start pulling his fingernails out?

      James Comey:”Ve vill meke u talk, von vay or de other Mr. Cook!”

      I’m certainly not endowed with legal knowledge, but what could Apple do? It seems to me, this is a court order with a time limit. Can Apple apply some legal challenge to a court order?

      As for the FBI stretching the meaning of a law enacted in the 1700’s to turn the entire IT world on it’s head, I’d say this fight is gonna turn into the battle of the century. And if the FBI wins.. well..you KNOW what this implies. Goodbye to everything we were taught America stood for.

      What’s even more disturbing to ME, is the reaction on various comment sections. I swear to god, a good portion of this nation has turned into FBI ass kissing, totalitarian wannabes who would sell their mother for a tour through FBI headquarters.

      All I know is it seems most of this country don’t give a flying fuck…if even they knew what was coming down. One thing is clear though. Should the FBI win.. our great grandchildren will SPIT on our graves.

      Meanwhile..on the other side of the planet..big shit coming down. And I mean BIG shit. We haven’t seen anything yet compared to what the Lords of War psychopaths have planned.


      lord help us and the world.

      02/18/16 10:41 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      I should have studied law. But from what I understand, Apple has five days to ask for something, a stay, an appeal, and then that process really begins. This one has Supreme Court potential written all over it.

      That said, it is likely the FBI will back down before the case gets to the Supreme Court, too risky against a company as rich and powerful as Apple. I predict they’ll try again later against a smaller company, who does not have the resources to fight hard, and whose name will not make headlines. The precedent will be the same, however.

      02/18/16 10:48 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      @ PVB and jo6pac;

      So we are now in a situation where the lower courts might be ruling on constitutional issues? Great system we got going here. No wonder the republicans want to block any nomination to the SC – the lower court already decided in favor of the FBI in this case.

      Well, okie-dokie then. Sounds kinda third-worldish to me, but then I thought Scalia’s opinion in Bush v Gore (2000 election), wherein he basically wrote that the voters shouldn’t be allowed to pick the president, was sort of third-worldish.

      Maybe it’s just me, but I think we are Wile E. Coyote at the bottom of the cliff, looking up helplessly until the ACME anvil smashes his brains in.

      02/18/16 10:57 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      “That said, it is likely the FBI will back down before the case gets to the Supreme Court, too risky against a company as rich and powerful as Apple. I predict they’ll try again later against a smaller company…”

      Well, THAT sounds like a false-flag incident ready to happen. “All we need, boys, is a patsy who doesn’t use Apple or one of the other big name phones and we’re back in business.”

      02/18/16 11:01 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Cass Sunstein just reviewed in the Jan 14th NY Review of Books two books on how the American elite evade taxes by parking their wealth offshore. He advocates a global watchdog group to scrutinize every financial transaction but also knows “privacy rights” may have to be compromised. Somebody has to be given the power to snoop. So who gets to snoop on the snoopers?

      Compare his suggestion with what the current Pope says.
      Hell awaits those whose greed brings greater misfortune to the poor suggesting God is the only reliable and safe snooper.

      02/18/16 12:22 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Opening the backdoor will allow this government to screw you. Your government has proven repeatedly it is not to be trusted and it has and will abuse its power. You know, ABSOLUTE POWER…

      Your government – the whores who do the bidding for the NRA -has allowed terrorists to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. As the government used the false flag anthrax attacks to scare its citizens to give up basic rights to privacy, it seeks to weaken further our right to privacy because some people were able to kill some other people because they could and the government allowed it to happen. If the government is serious about stopping terrorism on the homeland, let US do something about the assault weapons.

      Smartphones are not the problem. It’s the idiots in the government.

      02/18/16 1:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Headline I’d like to see:

      Judge Rules Assault Weapon Manufacturers Can Be Sued by Victims of Assault Weapons

      02/18/16 1:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Links 19/2/2016: Samsung’s ARTIK, ZFS in Ubuntu 16.04 | Techrights said...


      […] Judge Orders Apple to Help FBI Hack San Bernardino Shooter’s Phone […]

      02/19/16 8:24 AM | Comment Link

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