Turns out there’s at least one bigwig in the FBI who thinks Apple is more the bee’s knees than Beelzebub. John Bennett, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office, told Forbes, “We heart Apple. They train our cops.”
This is a meaningful statement in light of the accusations that Apple is comprised of “evil geniuses” and “jerks,” as FBI forensic expert Stephen Flatley recently told Motherboard. His complaint is the same as James Comey’s and Christopher Wray’s, the previous and current FBI Directors, respectively, namely Apple’s encryption.
Mr. Wray recently told the world he doesn’t believe the experts who say you can’t have a backdoor in encryption without putting everyone at risk. Despite decades of science and math universally agreeing on this issue—not to mention the acceptance of America’s own intelligence services—Mr. Wray wants a backdoor into encryption systems so the FBI can get into devices they have a legal right to get into.
I’ve pointed out the error in this thinking many times over the years, and I’ll admit I found Forbes’s story about John Bennett refreshing. When it comes to Apple and encryption, Mr. Bennett said:
They’re in an interesting environment where they have to service a legal process from agencies, from FBI to GCHQ to Chinese to Russian services. They are trying to make sure everyone is playing from a level field.
What Apple has tried to do in the past is engineer their ability out of having access to people’s private data, and that’s the balance former [FBI] director [James] Comey had talked about, the balance between safety and privacy. We’re not here to say one is better than the other.
Apple Does Work with the FBI
John Bennett has a good reason to appreciate Apple, and that’s because Apple helps train his agents in dealing with Apple devices. In fact, according to this article, Apple works with agents from all over the country who fly in for special training courses put on by Apple. The company works with local law enforcement forensics people, too.
This isn’t to say that Apple is doing what it can’t: break into encrypted devices. Instead, Apple is training FBI agents on the things they can do with Apple devices. For instance, Apple reached out to the FBI to help with a Texas mass murderer’s iPhone. In the end, however, the FBI folks in charge of that investigation never responded, but did whine to the press about not being able to get into the shooter’s device.
This kind of cooperation—which Apple does for free—is vital in a fast moving world of technology. While we, the people, need encryption to be protected from a myriad of malicious actors around the world, law enforcement also has legitimate need to legally access devices and data (whenever it can).
Judging by John Bennett’s “We heart Apple” comment, there’s a lot Apple does to help the FBI make the most of what it can do.