A supposed statement from Apple leaves many questions.
A few Apple fan sites have been running a supposed official statement from Apple pertaining to the tragic church shooting in Texas on Sunday. The FBI has the shooters phone, and as stated in a press conference on Tuesday, that they are unable to get into the phone. While the FBI would not divulge what make of phone that was because as Special Agent Christopher Combs stated, “I don’t want to tell every bad guy out there what phone to buy,” it is commonly believed that the phone is an iPhone.
The statement which is being shared as an official statement from Apple comes via a tweet by John Paczkowski of Buzzfeed. Read the full text below.
“We were shocked and saddened by the violence in Texas last Sunday, and we join the world in grieving for the families and community that lost so many loved ones.
“Our team immediately reached out to the FBI after learning from their press conference on Tuesday that investigators were trying to access a mobile phone. We offered assistance and said we would expedite our response to any legal process they send us.
We work with law enforcement every day. We offer training to thousands of agents so they understand our devices and how they can quickly request information from Apple.”
This statement seems to stand in stark contrast to Apple’s previous response in the San Bernardino terrorist case. In that case, Apple refused to comply with a court order to open the phone in the midst of a fresh terrorist investigation, instead dragging the FBI through a fight questioning the validity of the law which gives courts the right to use court orders. Apple went so far as testifying before the US congress in this case. In the end, after Apple stated it would take a team of Apple engineers months to crack in to the encrypted phone, an unnamed third party did so within a few hours, and the discussion went largely forgotten.
Now, with this statement, it appears that Apple is willing to assist with the authorities to gain entry into this phone. Although it may not mean that at all. Apple promises to “expedite their response to any legal process they send us”. They do not state what that response may be. That response may be another months long battle stating that they will not help the authorities.
However, it seems that most seem to be taking this to mean that Apple will help with this investigation. If that is true, why would Apple do so now? When they wouldn’t before? There are many people making many guesses as to why that would be. Some are guessing that it is because of the victims, families in a church, and the bad press which refusing to help would bring. Some people with political conspiracy theory bent are suggesting that it is because the shooter in this case is a white male as opposed to a member of a minority group. Some seem to think that Apple does not want to be embarrassed again by a third party breaking their security and would rather be the ones to do it themselves to control the narrative. Of these theories, I tend to believe Apple wishing to keep a third party from cracking the phone would be the most logical conclusion. But none of these theories are what I thought of first when I read this statement. I have my own theory.
The political landscape has changed a great deal since the San Bernardino shooting. More specifically, governments thoughts on companies which offer these warrant-proof services such as Apple, Facebook and WhatsApp has changed. Or, to put it more accurately, since the San Bernardino case, governments are now actually thinking about these companies, when it doesn’t seem that they were before. In the San Bernardino case, Apple, under the control of CEO Tim Cook, chose to stand up to the FBI. The FBI has asked for Apple to open the terrorist’s locked phone. Tim Cook changed the narrative of this request and turned it into a case of the government asking for a back door built into their OS, giving unfettered access to customer information. Suddenly, the encryption debate was formed. It was no longer a matter of a terrorists phone. It wasn’t even a matter of numerous criminals phones. It now became a matter of everyone’s phones. Tim Cook managed to effortlessly turn the issue from the ability of authorities to conduct a valid legal search, to the fear of the government conducting mass surveillance. I thought this was a bad idea then. I still think it was a bad idea now. I was concerned of what results Apple’s grandstanding would bring us.
In the time since this instance, we’ve seen exactly what has happened. We’ve watched as numerous governments in the western world, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have began to discuss future legislation which would demand these companies provide access to them. We have watched as numerous governments outside of the western world have begun to block warrant-proof products.
My theory, if Apple does choose to help investigators in this case, is that they will be doing it not as a marketing stunt this time. No, I think they’ll be doing it to attempt to stop the probably end result which their former actions started. I don’t want to live in a world where I am constantly under fear of government surveillance because a few companies chose to protect the communications of criminals. I want to know that as long as I am a law abiding citizen, my communications are safe and secure, and I want to know that law enforcement has every tool at hand to gather evidence on those that commit horrendous acts such as what happened in San Bernardino and now in Texas. I believe Apple made a poor decision in the San Bernardino case, that has now placed the future of law abiding citizens privacy at risk the world over. I hope that Apple can and will choose to correct this path with this tragedy in Texas. I hope that is what this statement is alluding to.