FBI and Apple's Encryption

The New York Times is reporting that Apple encryption is hampering an FBI investigation:

In an investigation involving guns and drugs, the Justice Department obtained a court order this summer demanding that Apple turn over, in real time, text messages between suspects using iPhones.

Apple’s response: Its iMessage system was encrypted and the company could not comply.

Government officials had warned for months that this type of standoff was inevitable as technology companies like Apple and Google embraced tougher encryption. The case, coming after several others in which similar requests were rebuffed, prompted some senior Justice Department and F.B.I. officials to advocate taking Apple to court, several current and former law enforcement officials said.

While that prospect has been shelved for now, the Justice Department is engaged in a court dispute with another tech company, Microsoft.

Several people have asked me in e-mail if this is the case I was referrring to here:

There’s a persistent rumor going around that Apple is in the secret FISA Court, fighting a government order to make its platform more surveillance-friendly — and they’re losing. This might explain Apple CEO Tim Cook’s somewhat sudden vehemence about privacy. I have not found any confirmation of the rumor.

It’s not. The rumor I am hearing is not about access to a particular user and his communications. It is about general access to iOS data and communications. And it’s in the FISA court, which means that it’s not a domestic criminal matter.

To reiterate: this is a rumor. I have no confirmation. But I know three reporters that are poking around, looking for the story.

EDITED TO ADD (9/11): Nicholas Weaver, Matthew Green, and uh, Mike September 11, 2015 8:33 AM

Y’all know, it’s very nearly as easy to send comments to senators as to post comments on this blog.

The FBI forgets that the United States is not the Planet Earth, nor is it Planet FBI. An American backdoor in an Apple phone will not sell outside the USA, and probably won’t sell inside the USA.

Senators will understand that Apple needs to make up-to-date products that serve the product owner, not some other authority than the product owner. Apple wants to sell phones outside the USA, and will sell phones outside the USA, and outside the USA, Apple phones will not have the USA backdoor.

The FBI is more stupid than the Senate. Start communicating with the Senate. They (most of them) have other interests than spying on their constituents.

It’s easy. If you leave comments here, leave comments with your senators as well. Push back.

uh, Mike September 11, 2015 8:37 AM

Perhaps, in the public arena, we can install a rumor that the phones already have the backdoor. If enough people believe they’re already p0wned, they’ll get angry and start to shout. That will make the elected officials spurn Clown Comey. Then we can get back to work defending ourselves from non-Government criminals.

CallMeLateForSupper September 11, 2015 2:19 PM

@uh, Mike
“Perhaps, in the public arena, we can install
a rumor that the phones already have the backdoor.”

Disinformation is a two-edged sword. Get caught in the lie and it could be game over. This particular “game” is too important to be treated capriciously. I subscribe to “Speak truth to power”.

“If enough people believe they’re already p0wned,
they’ll get angry and start to shout. That will
make the elected officials spurn Clown Comey.”

(I believe the term is “pwned”.) The perfect finishing touch for your argument is, “And we’ll all live happily ever after. The End.”

Even if the people start to shout, that alone would not significantly alter the course of Supertanker Congress.

At a place where I worked, long ago and far away, the following maxim for “selling” unpopular/inconvenient work product to management was repeated ad nauseum: “If you can’t convince them with facts, dazzle them with fancy footwork.” Comey’s initial call for a unicorn (a hat-tip to whomever recently injected that term into this blog) was weak (putting it kindly) on substantive, germain facts. So much for brandishing facts. Now Comey has transitioned to dazzling his audience with fancy footwork: parsing metaphors, i.e. front-door versus back-door, while avoiding direct references to the actual object of his desire, i.e. unfettered access to everyone’s stuff.

Curious September 11, 2015 3:26 PM


I just want to jump in and cough up something I recall from a Chomsky talk on youtube some time ago, when someone in the audience asked him what he thought about speaking truth to power. Chomsky simply started with I guess a cynical statement in saying something like, that the people in power already know the truth (maybe related to some particular context, don’t remember). Whatever one is inclined to think, I guess it all depends on just whom you would like to communicate with. To simply want to speak truth to power, seem to rely on some kind of assumption that somebody cares about truth as such, as if everyone was the same team. I would think that there is literally a working hazard, that by working at any place, it has the effect of being subjec to indoctrination. ‘Indoctrination’ is not a dirty word in the military afaik.

goober September 14, 2015 4:15 AM

It’s easy. If you leave comments here, leave comments with your senators as well. Push back.

Except half the people here are British commonwealth sans USA who care not what the US senate thinks.

rgaff September 16, 2015 4:08 PM


“Except half the people here are British commonwealth sans USA who care not what the US senate thinks.”

Anyone worldwide could care what the Senate thinks… but no Senator cares what anyone worldwide thinks, all they care about is where their money is coming from and how to get re-elected… if you don’t much effect either of those, you are quite boldly ignored and not even pretended to be listened to.

Anon October 4, 2015 11:29 PM

If you can’t or don’t want to trust Apple (or any 3rd party for that matter) then encrypt the message using another offline system, and send that result as the message?

The core problem is whether the supplied encryption/keys can be trusted. If you use another system outside their control, then the method of transmission should not matter.

Daniel A Benny November 12, 2015 5:28 AM

It is good to know that Apple encryption technology is Advance and that FBI is finding problem to break it, but checks and Balance has to be in place, so that rogue elements cannot misuse the technology.

More over privacy and security of the common man is also important, I suggest the Apple should keep the backup of all communication so that it provides the information to Government agency whenever it is asked for it, at least 3 year data should be maintained without hampering the privacy and security of the common man.

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nate February 20, 2016 11:03 AM

Apple can have a FISA Warrant and a copy of the Affidavit brought to them and Apple will privately obtain a copy of the phone’s contents and deliver that content back to the FBI. If what is on that phone is so important, then have the Encryption argument later and get the info and save the WORLD three months ago. This is nonsense, as a Law Enforcement member my whole life I realize that it is the Encryption Key for 800,000 iPhones that the Government wants because no matter the location in the world where the phone is located the Feds will have access.

In closing, the Patriot Act was suppose to allow our Government to intercept communications from foreign countries to radicals here and visa versa. Mr. Clapper, after Snowden, under oath, lied when he said that was the case when Fiorina and Clapper and the Generals in 2002-3 conspired to use HP servers and technology to secretly spy on all Americans. Clapper said it was done inadvertently. The truth, it was deliberate and goes on today without warrants. Local Law Enforcement can do all the listening and spying at the ISP’s without leaving their desks.

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