THE BLOG

Apple v the FBI: What Really Happened

15/04/2016 15:00

The fight between Apple and the FBI was about two entirely different things, neither of which had anything to do with the publicly stated reasons from either side.

On the surface, the FBI were fighting to de-crypt an iPhone that they claimed contained information that could lead them to other terrorists who may have been involved with the San Bernardino case.

It is widely accepted that whilst this may have formed a small part of the reason that the FBI chose to take Apple to a court of law, in order to force the tech giant to comply with their requests to provide a way to circumvent the iPhones built-in security, the real reason was legal precedent.

In the American, and many other legal systems around the world, once a precedence has been set, it is difficult to avoid complying with a law under similar circumstances to the initial precedent. In short, once Apple had been forced to provide a way in to one iPhone for the US government, they would have to do so over and over again.

Even worse, once this precedent had been set in the US, it would be easy to imagine how other foreign governments, law enforcement and spy agencies would see that enacting similar laws in their own countries could offer them new ways to get information, both for the wider good, but also to enact repression and terror on their own people.

The defence from Apple's side centred on the principle that encryption is not encryption at all if someone has a "back-door", and that this back-door, once enabled, would be incredibly hard, if not impossible, to keep secure from nefarious actors.

Rogue governments, corporate espionage and criminals would find immense value in that kind of vulnerability, particularly on a device as widely used as the iPhone.

This would be bad for everyone, from US corporations having their intellectual property stolen, down to us, as individuals. All the personal, medical and financial data that we currently store on our iPhones would no longer be private.

The incredible harm and vulnerability that could bring to anyone from political activists, to women who have fled abusive relationships to straight-forward embarrassing medical details becoming available to people who intend to blackmail or damage someone, doesn't bear thinking about.

So Apple positioned themselves as the protectors of our individual privacy, safety and even of big companies' corporate interests. They were prepared to defend these rights to the highest courts in America, even whilst the FBI painted Apple as aiding and enabling terrorists and terrorism by preventing access to Syed Farook's iPhone.

With Tim Cook at the helm, it's not terribly hard to believe that the liberal and left-leaning Apple CEO was genuinely following his beliefs, that people are entitled to privacy. What shouldn't be ignored however, is the key potential commercial interests of Apple in the longer term.

In an extensive blog post, Charlie Stross speculated that, even if you accept Apple's public stance on their fight with the FBI, there were far larger interests that were motivating Apple to out their considerable might to work in this case.

Apple Pay is a relatively new feature on the latest iPhones, iPads and Apple Watch, an ability to use your device to securely pay for goods and services.

At the moment, the use of Apple Pay is limited, but as Stross rightly points out, with Apples' large cash reserves, its partnerships with international banks, its unique position with consumer trust in regards to keeping your payment methods secure (just think of how many people have iTunes accounts and so far, that database has never been breached, unlike a number of other retailers), it has a very real opportunity.

Outside of building the iCar, expanding to offer Apple-backed secure banking services, particularly around our trusted and highly secure Apple iOS devices, is a logical and potentially lucrative source of income and growth for the already giant US Corporation.

It's not a new phenomenon in the states. GE Capital, for example, grew out from General Electric's huge cash stockpiles and pension funds as an investment arm, in order to make that money continue to grow where simply depositing those vast sums would not have been anywhere near as effective.
Imagining Apple going the same way, as it is sitting on some of the largest cash reserves of any corporation in global economic history, is not difficult - particularly in the current climate, where that money will not be growing in any meaningful way.

What the FBI did not realise, in their continuing quest for a legal precedent, was that they were directly attacking the potential security of Apple's financial future. Not just in terms of lost device sales as customers flee to more secure devices and operating systems, but in lost business. The ability to trust the security of an Apple Bank, for both consumers and businesses, to provide a secure banking platform, would disappear in smoke.

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