Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: We're Sympathetic to Apple's Privacy Fight

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says his company is sympathetic to Apple and its fight with the FBI over intentionally removing security features from iOS as part of an investigation. He said stripping away encryption protections won't help security, echoing Apple CEO Tim Cook's stance.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg sides with Apple in FBI privacy fightFacebook's Mark Zuckerberg sides with Apple in FBI privacy fight

Mr. Zuckerberg shared his thoughts while speaking at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona on Monday. 

"I don't think that requiring back doors to encryption is either going to be an effective thing to increase security or is really the right thing to do," Mr. Zuckerberg said, according to the BBC. "We are pretty sympathetic to Tim [Cook] and Apple."

Mr. Zuckerberg's comments are in response to a court order the FBI obtained compelling Apple to create a special iOS version that removes security features designed to keep hackers from using brute force attacks to find an iPhone's passcode. The FBI plans to use the specially crafted version of iOS to get into the iPhone Syed Rizwan Farook had when he, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, opened fire on their San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers.

The FBI pushed for the court order because the device's content is encrypted and after ten failed login attempts will be irretrievably lost. The order requires Apple to create a version of iOS that removes the 10 password attempt limit before trashing the device's data, removes the time gap between login attempts, and adds the ability to automate entering passwords.

Apple is fighting the court order saying it's an overreach of government authority and sets a dangerous precedent where tech companies will be expected to develop the tools governments need to hack into smartphones and other encrypted devices. 

Next up: The FBI's Onesies Argument

The FBI's Onesies Argument

The FBI said this would be a one-off event, although Apple CEO Tim Cook sees it as an open door to similar orders. "The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that's simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices."

FBI Director James Comey says the court order doesn't set precedentFBI Director James Comey says the court order doesn't set precedent

FBI Director James Comey says that's not the case at all. "The San Bernardino litigation isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message," he said. "We don't want to break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land."

That may be what Mr. Comey said, but the reality is very different. Mr. Cook said, "Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case."

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance made that clear in an interview with Charlie Rose. During the interview Mr. Rose asked (thanks New York Times), "If there is access to this phone, you want access to all those phones that you think are crucial in a criminal proceeding?"

Mr. Vance answered saying, "Absolutely right."

In other words, law enforcement agencies are champing at the bit to follow the FBI's lead and require Apple to use their hackable iOS to get into more iPhones. That's how precedent works.

Facebook commented on the FBI's court order last week stating,

We will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies' efforts to secure their products.

Stripping away privacy may seem like a good idea in this one case, but once it's done there isn't any turning back. Law enforcement agencies, foreign governments, and hackers will all want to get their hands on Apple's hackable operating system, so Apple, Facebook, and every other tech company would be smart to fight efforts to force weaker security measures onto our devices.

Weakening the safeguards that protect the privacy of millions of people on the hope that maybe there's a clue on the iPhone in the FBI's custody seems reckless and foolhardy—and a steep price to pay. As former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden noted, we're all better off with strong encryption even though it makes law enforcement's job harder.