It is an open battle between the US government’s
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the most valuable company—Apple—over access to the contents of an iPhone 5c owned by dead terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook who, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, had gunned down 14 people in San Bernardino, California, late last year. But, it is not a simple open-and-shut case. The battle has global ramifications that could affect anyone owning a smartphone anywhere on the planet. The FBI wants Apple to create a back-door to access Farook’s iPhone. While each iPhone has an encryption key that is 256 bits long and next to impossible to crack, most users employ a four-digit passcode to unlock the device. Since that means a possible 10,000 codes, any computer can crack it. But, thanks to safety features built-in by Apple, if a user punches wrong passwords several times, the device will accept more guesses after a time lag of an hour. Also, it can be programmed to self-destruct. That is something the FBI does not want to happen with Farook’s iPhone.
After the FBI directive, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an 1,100-word message to customers where he stated that once the tool is created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. Such a back-door will not be for just one device but for all iPhones. Cook went on to state: “The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.” So much so, authoritarian governments such as China and Russia would demand greater access to mobile phone data. The FBI directive to Apple is on the lines of what the Indian government had sought from BlackBerry—providing encryption keys to its secure corporate emails and messenger services. If Apple succumbs to the FBI, soon there will be requests from governments across the world seeking access to private data on one’s mobile device. That will truly be an Orwellian 1984. Basically, it is not whether Apple can comply, but whether it should at all.