Monday, March 28, 2016

FBI Abandons Case Against Apple

The FBI has broken into a seized phone with the assistance of an unnamed security company. This result renders the FBI suit against Apple moot and vindicates a consensus of security experts who said all along that the FBI’s position that it needed Apple’s assistance was preposterous. The speed with which the FBI broke into the phone — it worked on it for one week — shows that the approach it took was less costly than the custom software it was requesting in its lawsuit against Apple would have been. The phone in question was a work phone, and from it, the FBI has presumably retrieved work schedule information that belonged to the suspect from whom the phone was taken.

The gist of the case against Apple involved the question of the extent to which the government can conscript unrelated third parties to do the work of government. In this case, the FBI decided to undertake its own effort only after it appeared it might lose its case against Apple. The case may set a precedent of sorts, even if there cannot be a legal precedent. In the future, law enforcement agencies are likely to decide it doesn’t make sense to hire lawyers to arrange for work that can more easily be done by engineers.