The FBI and Apple encryption battle is over, now the true debate begins

The DOJ has closed its case against Apple and found a way to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorist. Now the real debate begins about how to protect U.S. citizens and maintain our civil rights.

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The U.S. government announced today that investigators found a way to hack into the iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorist late last year.

According to most reports, a third party security expert stepped forward and helped the FBI read the encrypted data required for their investigation.

This was a landmark case that involved, for the first time ever, the most powerful company in tech (or at least the most popular and the most well-known) against the most powerful nation in the world. It was a case that would have likely ended up in the Supreme Court, but will certainly set the stage for more discussions.

The hack likely involved mirroring the data on the iPhone so it could be accessed without having to guess the password or use some other method to break into the phone. This is a delicate, expensive, and risky proposition, but in the right hands, it can work as a method for accessing the encrypted data. One report said the Israeli company Cellebrite might have helped the FBI hack into the phone.

Some have argued this was a win for Apple. The company never had to create a “backdoor” that allowed investigators to break into the phone. The company never had to create a new version of iOS that would have fallen into the wrong hands. More importantly, Apple didn’t have to compromise their stand on encryption or make users question whether their data is safe. It's a win for Apple customers.

At the same time, even though the case is now resolved, the debate is only getting underway. There are lingering questions about the role of tech companies in an investigation; there are unanswered questions about why the FBI requested the help of Apple in such a public way and even held hearings on the topic; and, it makes you wonder if the methods to hack into the iPhone could be used in other cases.

What’s really at stake here?

The U.S. government insists the issue is about safety, and it is: There are more and more attacks happening all over the world. Apple and the other tech giants of Silicon Valley have insisted the issue is about personal; security. They don’t want to be perceived as complicit in unlocking a smartphone, creating a backdoor, or providing any way for a third-party to access your data without permission or knowledge.

As with any fervent debate between two powerful entities, there are points to be made on both sides and no easy answers. At a tech conference recently, even President Obama said there were no absolutes. There is a greater need for safety and a way to fight terror groups with technology. There is also a great need to protect digital assets, especially as we use our phones as a wallet, a camera, a location device, a communicator with our kids and for work.

I don’t see this debate going away anytime soon. If anything, it will lead to another case with even more dire consequences for protecting U.S. citizens...and maintaining their privacy. 


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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