‘The path to hell starts at the backdoor’, hears court in Apple-FBI battle

2 Mar 2016

As Apple’s court battle with the FBI continues, the company is beginning to find that some of those in Congress are quite defensive of privacy matters, with one calling the FBI’s efforts a “fool’s errand”.

As many are now aware, Apple is in the midst of a legal challenge by the FBI to unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, the man who killed 14 people in a shooting in the city of San Bernardino in California last December.

Since the FBI brought the case in front of the US Congressional committee, the logical thought would have that the government would side with the governmental organisation, but not so, it seems.

Future Human

According to The Guardian, the FBI’s director, James Comey, has been putting forward the analogy of Apple’s encryption of its phone being a “vicious guard dog” that needs to be bypassed.

Stepping over the guard dog

“We’re asking Apple to take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock,” said Comey. “It’s not their job to watch out for public safety. That’s our job.”

He went on to discuss a world in which all private communications are exactly that – seeming to imply that such a future, which privacy campaigners are aiming to protect, would be a bad thing.

Comey said: “The logic of encryption will bring us to a place in the not-too-distant future where all of our conversations and all our papers and effects are entirely private.”

However, some members of the House judiciary committee listening to Comey appeared uninterested in his line of reasoning for creating a backdoor that would allow the FBI and others to gain access to people’s phones on demand.

‘The path to hell starts at the backdoor’

Among those critical of the FBI’s argument against Apple’s creation of “warrant-free spaces” was Representative Zoe Lofgren, who described the bureau’s efforts to unlock the phone as a “fool’s errand”.

Meanwhile, committee chairman Robert Goodlatte appeared quite cautious about Comey’s request due to the potentially far-reaching effects it could have on cybersecurity and encryption saying it “may not be an ideal case on which to set precedent”.

“It won’t be a one-time request,” Goodlatte continued. “It’ll set a precedent for other requests from the FBI and any other law enforcement.”

In response, Comey agreed with Goodlatte’s comment, even though he had previously said this would only affect Farook’s iPhone.

Adding a defence for Apple’s stance was one of its biggest rivals, Microsoft, who, through its general counsel Brad Smith, said about the decrypting of the iPhone that “the path to hell starts at the backdoor”.

The hearing continues.

Capitol Hill building image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic