Attorney General Plays Misinformation Card in iPhone Unlocking Fight

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.