FBI Court Filing Plays Fast and Loose with Apple Facts

| Analysis

Apple-OrangeThe FBI on Thursday filed a response to Apple's response to a court order mandating that Apple create a version of iOS—dubbed FBiOS or GovtOS in the media—shorn of several key security features. In its filing, the FBI attempts to deconstruct Apple's arguments against the order, but in one area in particular, the government's attorneys play fast and loose with the facts in an apples-to-oranges comparison.


The FBI accuses Apple of trying to "alarm this Court with issues of network security, encryption, back doors, and privacy, invoking larger debates before Congress and in the news media."

"That is a diversion," the filing asserts. "Apple desperately wants—desperately needs—this case not to be 'about one isolated iPhone.'"

According to Wired, Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell threw the accusation back at the FBI during a press conference on Thursday, saying:

The tone of the brief reads like an indictment. In thirty years of practice I don't think I've ever seen a legal brief that was more intended to smear the other side with false accusations and innuendo and less intended to focus on the real merits of the case.

That's not hyperbole, in my opinion.


Some of those allegedly false accusations might be ones concerning China. In the filing, the U.S. government suggests that Apple routinely helps the Chinese government in the same way that the FBI is asking for help now, and it uses Apple's Transparency Report to make the claim.

"According to Apple's own data," the government wrote, "China demanded information from Apple regarding over 4,000 iPhones in the first half of 2015, and Apple produced data 74% of the time."

Those numbers come from Apple's Transparency Report, in which Apple discloses the number of requests it gets for assistance and the percentage of cases where it then renders assistance. In the first half of 2015—the period covered in Apple's most recent report—Apple received 1,129 "Device Requests" in China covering 4,398 devices. Apple provided "some data" in 74 percent of those cases.

And that's apparently where the FBI's attorneys would like the courts and anyone following this case to stop reading or thinking. The implication is that Apple has done what the FBI is asking be done to Syed Farook's work iPhone thousands of times in China. It then extends that argument to say Apple's cooperation with China renders moot any concerns about precedents enabling foreign authoritarian regimes to demand similar backdoors.

Here's what "Device Requests" actually are, according to the same Transparency Report:

The vast majority of the requests we receive from law enforcement relate to information about lost or stolen devices, and we report these as device requests. Device requests may include requests for customer contact information provided to register a device with Apple or the date(s) the device used Apple services. We count devices based on the individual serial numbers related to an investigation.

Put another way, those numbers are in no way similar to what's being demanded of Apple in the FBI's case. To wit, Apple executives and attorneys have stated categorically that the company has never created the tools the FBI was demanding, that it deemed such tools too dangerous to exist. That is, roughly, the exact opposite of Apple routinely doing what the FBI wants.

The FBI is trying to equate-through-implication that telling the local police where a stolen iPhone is, or giving them iCloud-related date, is is no different than creating a back door that threatens the privacy and security of all iPhone owners.

I should also note that Apple had some 3,824 such requests covering some 9,717 devices in the U.S. in the same period, and it provided "some data" in 81 percent of those instances, a higher number and greater percentage than in China.

Appleorange image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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I have never in my life been more ashamed of my government as I am of late, and I lived through both Vietnam *and* W. Just absurd. :(


I second Jamie’s comments about being ashamed of my government over this issue.

One of the claims that the FBI, DOJ, and others keep saying is that iPhones are a criminal and terrorist heaven because of how good the encryption is.  So what does the government thinks is going to happen if they get their backdoor?  Do they think all the criminals and terrorists are going to sit still and wait for the government to show up?

I believe I saw a news story saying that terrorists, like ISIS, have assumed for some time now that silicon valley was already providing the U.S. government backdoors.  This same news article claimed that ISIS already uses its own custom made encrypted app for communications.  So the government having a backdoor into the iPhone will not do anything because ISIS and others have already moved on to other systems.


I thought it was standard operating procedure for the government to play fast and loose with the facts when they are not outright lying. I agree with Jamie. Anyone who is familiar with the all of the FBI’s history knows that they could fairly be called the FIB. This is not meant to discredit those agents who are honest in performing their duties. I would suggest that people read, Classified Woman – The Sibel Edmonds Story A Story of the Most Classified Woman in U.S. history by Sibel Edmonds as a starting point in their education about how things work in government. Then they can educate themselves about the scandals revolving around FBI crime labs.

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