Apple is too cool for the CIA to touch

Tim Cook 2009 cropped
Tim Cook – time he was sent to jail?
You can’t have missed the furore over Apple’s refusal to help the CIA get the data from a terrorist murderers iPhone. On the one side the CIA says that we need the data to protect the public, a line with the judiciary of the USA agrees with, and Apple should do everything possible to get it for them. On the other side there’s Apple’s PR engine trying (successfully) to spin the story and avoid complying with the court order.

In the mean time the Brazilians haven’t shown such deference to a cultural icon when it comes to Facebook owned WhatsApp refusing to hand over data concerning a major drugs trafficker, even after several court orders. The Brazilian authorities have arrested Diego Dzodan, Facebook’s hancho in Latin America, and thrown him in jail until such time as the company obeys the law.

Perhaps he Americans could try that with Tim Cook – you break the law, you go to jail.

Meanwhile, Apple might seem to be setting itself up as the criminals friend over this. In the land of the free where profit is king, I guess their money is as good as anyone else’s so perhaps we should be too judgemental. But in an outrageous spin, Apple has told the world that if they comply with the court order then all Apple handsets will have a backdoor and no longer be secure. This is disingenuous. The situation is this:

Apple encrypts the data stored on the phone. You have to enter a password to unlock it. If you enter ten wrong passwords it will wipe the data from the phone. The CIA has asked Apple to modify this handset to disable the data wiping feature, so the CIA can then just keep throwing passwords at it until it unlocks. Clearly, this is going to have no physical effect on any other handset anywhere else in the world. So what’s Apple’s problem?

If Apple helped the CIA break in to the handset, Apple can no longer claim that its handsets are invulnerable. Terrorists, fraudsters and anyone up to something will know that the authorities can get at Apple data even more easily than if it was stored on iCloud. Note well: the fact that Apple hasn’t produced the mod needed to do this (publicly), doesn’t mean that its not possible right now; and it may even be happening. But Apple wants to maintain the illusion that it can’t.

Put another way, it’s easy enough to bypass the locks on a front door. You just need a large enough sledge hammer. Doubt this? Look at the footage of a police raid taking place – a few burly coppers with a battering ram and it’s open in seconds. Apple is selling locks and trying to pretend there’s no such thing as a sledgehammer.

So why, might one ask, don’t the US authorities stop messing around and get the court order enforced? Are they really scared of Apple?

What’s really worrying about this situation is that “civil liberties campaigners” and some corporate America is rushing to put out statements in Apple’s defence. In other words, big business reckons it’s above the law made by the people using a democratically elected government.

US judge tells Microsoft to hand over data on foreign servers

Yesterday, a judge in a New York court ordered Microsoft to hand over information stored on a server in Ireland following a US search warrant. Magistrate Judge James Francis reckons a search warrant for servers is different to a search warrant for anywhere else Рmore of a subpoena to hand over documents. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft plans to roll the dice again with a Federal judge this time.

Microsoft, of course, has recently been soothing its cloud customers by saying that if the data is held outside the US, Uncle Sam won’t be able to plunder it in violation of the users’ local rights. In particular, the EU legislation being drafted to prevent companies sharing EU citizens’ data with foreign powers unless explicitly allowed by international treaty or another EU law. The NSA, or US corporations, would not be allowed to just look at whatever they wanted.
This plays right in to Angela Merkel’s proposal for an EU communications network that can’t be legally snooped on by the yanks by avoiding the use of US-based servers.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft said:

“A U.S. prosecutor cannot obtain a U.S. warrant to search someone’s home located in another country, just as another country’s prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States. (Microsoft) thinks the same rules should apply in the online world, but the government disagrees.”

Is Microsoft really so naive? Although the ruling followed its challenge of a search warrant concerning a Microsoft account, its implications apply to all US cloud service providers. Although they intend to appeal, in the mean time any US company holding your data off-shore might as well have its servers in America – they’ll be forced to hand over all your data either way.

This isn’t to say that data held in the UK, for example, is any more secure. There’s RIPA to worry about – the Act allows authorities can plunder what they like, although it does make it illegal for anyone other than the State to do this.