Attorney General Plays Misinformation Card in iPhone Unlocking Fight

| Analysis

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch hopes Apple will finally see the light and comply with a Federal Court order to create a passcode hackable version of the iPhone operating system for an FBI investigation. She said thousands of companies comply with similar orders every day, which seems a little off considering no company has ever been given an order compelling them to create something that doesn't already exist to be used as a forensic tool.

U.S. Attorney General on iPhone hacking order: companies comply all the timeU.S. Attorney General on iPhone hacking order: companies comply all the time

In an interview on Fox News, Ms. Lynch said,

It is still our hope that [Apple] will see their way clear to complying with that order as thousands of other companies do every day.

The court order she's referring to was granted by Federal Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym at the FBI's request. The agency has been investigating the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack where Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik opened fire on their San Bernardino County coworkers killing 14 and injuring 22 others.

The county issued iPhone was recovered from Mr. Farook, and Apple helped the FBI recover as much data from the device as they could. Agents wanted access to all contents of the phone, but weren't able to gain access since they didn't know the passcode. Apple doesn't have any way to bypass the lock screen, so the FBI requested a court order to force the company to create a new iOS version that removes the ten try passcode limit, removes features that permanently destroy all data from failed passcode attempts, and adds in a way to automate entering passcodes until the correct one is found.

Apple is fighting the order saying it poses a grave risk to privacy and security, and that it's an unprecedented overreach of government authority. The FBI says that's not true, although Director James Comey did later say the order would set a precedent for future cases.

The iPhone maker has a new ally in its defense now that a Federal judge in a separate case ruled the All Writs Act—the basis for the FBI's request—doesn't grant the government the authority to force Apple to create a less secure version of iOS.

Which brings us back to Ms. Lynch's statement that thousands of companies comply with "that order" every day. So far, no company has complied because only one—in the entire history of the United States—has ever been ordered to do so, and that company is currently contesting its validity and legal standing.

The court is ordering Apple to create a new tool, one that strips away security features, for the FBI's use. If this was the kind of order thousands of companies complied with daily, Apple wouldn't be in a position to call it unprecedented and Director Comey wouldn't be conceding that it will set precedent.

That makes Ms. Lynch's statement either misinformed or misleading, and considering she's the Attorney General for the United States it's a safe bet she isn't misinformed.

Misleading the public is a disappointing move because the stakes in this case reach far beyond a single iPhone in a tragic shooting event. The FBI morphed its investigation into a platform to force companies to give it the tools it needs to side step security and encryption measures even when those tools don't already exist.

Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell and Director Comey are both testifying before the House Judiciary Committee today in response to the court order. Mr. Sewell will argue to protect encryption, privacy, and security, while Directory Comey will argue law enforcement needs ways to access encrypted content on our devices for national security.

This battle won't end today, and the debate will likely get murkier before it's done thanks in part to statements crafted to confuse the public. You know, like the U.S. Attorney General saying thousands of companies comply with court orders like Apple's every day.

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Johnny Getz

Is there really any surprise that the FBI or the Justice Dept. would make a misleading statement.  It’s what they do.  They lie, cheat, steal, to get their way and jail you if you try the same thing.  Go APPLE


I guess she has been too busy to read Judge Ornstein’s Order.

That’s unfortunate - for her. It completely undercuts her case.


The ignorance in our government is beyond forehead slap inducing, and only slightly more astonishing is their zeal for basing law on that ignorance. If any of this were truly as innocent as they claim, it *would* have been matter of course. Here’s to hoping that if they are forced to comply with this clearly biased nonsense, that Apple circumvents the exploit in the next version of iOS. This is all just ludicrous at this point.


Jamie - I think you can take that as a “given”.

I wouldn’t require a passcode to start DFU because that would mean that you couldn’t un-brick a bricked phone. Better would be to wipe memory as the first part of a DFU update.

So, regular update - provide the passcode. DFU recovery - wipe the data. Problem solved!


I honestly thought there might be some hope when we got Wheeler, a sign that the tide was turning on these matters. I have no doubt that smart engineers (on both sides) will find their way around it regardless of what happens, but this *blatant* and public an example of criminality on the part of our gov is disheartening - the counterbalances become more and more few and far between!


Even if companies were complying with this type of request the “thousands of other companies do every day” part is unbelievable!!  Even if make it the lowest possible to make her statement true, 2,000 per day, that’s one company every 43.2 seconds, every day!!! Wha??  No wonder the Justice Department is so swamped.


Committing fraud against the American people should be a basis for public officials to lose their job. And if it’s not a law now, we should make it one.

Comey, Lynch and others have done so, IMO, for their misleading statements. It would be just if they lost their pensions when they are removed from office for failing to uphold the Constitution and laws of the US.


Jamie: I am not sure if you could make a case for “obstruction of justice”. That is criminal but it would be a hard call.

What is not hard is: “deceitful”, “irresponsible”, “reckless”.

The more of this that comes out, the more sure I am that there’s an underlying effort to use “terrorism” to “encourage” Congress to rewrite CALEA - gutting the safeguards it contains. That is the real agenda here - the iPhone in question is of no consequence in and of itself. It is worth reading Judge Ornstein’s Order in its entirety, despite its length, because he does address many of the San Bernardino issues.

Paul Goodwin

Misinformation? Let’s call it what it is. The Attorney General of the United States lied to the people she serves.


It is easy to take the Attorney General to task for her statements. Still, she is only doing the bidding of the current administration. What she wants Apple to do is what the White House wants done. I don’t know why this administration wants law enforcement to have these types of tools; but I think it has little to do with this particular 5c.

Paul Goodwin

It’s the FBI and the Attorney General who is the head of about 60 agencies. The President hires these people to handle these jobs. What evidence is there that Obama is involved in this at all?


The statements made by the WH Press Secretary, the President and others in the administration are sufficient to make such a connection. Do you remember how many times this administration has claimed they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation? They consistently break this self imposed rule when the investigation involves some policy goal. They don’t care much about this 5c; but they don’t want to cede power to private business. When Apple stance on privacy began to harden; the heat from the administration began to be applied.

So the words from the WH, President, Attorney General, FBI director and others are in lock step and we are to conclude that this isn’t the goal of the administration and/or they aren’t involved? That stretches credulity past breaking.

Paul Goodwin

You are greatly overstating this “lock-step” approach. I doubt seriously if the President told the Attorney General to go spread this lie.


@Paul I have not said that the President told the Attorney General to lie. I haven’t even said she lied. I don’t believe it was her intention to lie. One thing is absolutely clear. This effort is being orchestrated by this administration and it would be DOA without the President’s support. He could simply come out against this effort and it would go no where. He hasn’t come out against what she said. He didn’t recant equally misleading statements made by his own press secretary.

I don’t think this is a sinister plot on his part. But I do think he owns it. I also believe he has a lot of public support. There are many Democratic and Republican officials who side with him. This issue is too important for it to get caught up in a “right” against “left” blood fight. It isn’t that at all.

We would be wise to listen to what the DOJ has to say. Listen also to reasoned argument from those opposed. It will ultimately be decided by legislation and constitutional approbation by the Supreme Court. I don’t think calling the Attorney General a liar acting independently is helpful.


MacWorld has an article that at least tries to put forth some reasonable beginning points to argue without the personal stuff.

Paul Goodwin

It’ll be on him if anything is done on this short term. I doubt it’ll get resolved before he’s gone. I don’t know whether she was under-informed, or playing politics with the FBI, but she did say it, and it’s not true. If she did know what she was saying, it’s a terrible thing for the US attorney General to be saying. If she didn’t know the details, she probably just screwed up by even saying anything, and that’s not a good thing for a leader to be doing. I don’t really know what the right thing to do on this issue is. It’s a tough balancing act between two evils.


Paul: actually, I think it might be good for DoJ/FBI to try to push something through now. As far as “try” is concerned, Yoda is not on their side.

Given the current political animus towards Obama, it has zero chance of becoming law. And it will be smacked down so hard that it might well be another twenty years before someone tries the stunt again.

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