In a television interview, former CIA Director James Woolsey has said that Apple is "generally in the right" in its arguments against being compelled to weaken security on the iPhone, as demanded by a magistrate judge and the FBI. While saying that he has "a great deal of admiration" for the agency, Woolsey acknowledged Apple's contention -- which the FBI and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have variously claimed -- that the request amounts to forcing Apple to build a "back door" into its products.
Asked about the case on CNBC's Squawk Box
program, Woolsey said that he has looked into the case "with care," and felt personally that the FBI was attempting
to force Apple to "restructure" its operating system to weaken the security of it, and that -- whether intentional or not -- the government was in fact asking Apple to hack into its own operating system, which would invariably lead to smartphone security among all makes and models being compromised for any and all types of investigations, even speculative ones.
While sympathizing with the FBI's desire in the case of wanting to explore what might be contained in the work-issued iPhone 5c the San Bernardino County Health Department gave to its employee Syed Farook -- who later engineered a workplace massacre at the department's Christmas party before being killed by police during the getaway five hours later -- Woolsey noted that the FBI has admitted that they can't themselves overcome the security protections built into the iPhone, saying that the agency's technicians are "not great telephone designers" and that he doesn't think "that is their niche."
Woolsey said he fears that if Apple was compelled to weaken the product's security, courts "all over the world" would begin saying they need to get into iPhones for various reasons -- effectively nullifying the privacy and security of any smartphone, a point Apple has made repeatedly. He added that he thought the FBI and Apple should have had their top experts discuss the issue more thoroughly before the FBI went to court -- something that both the agency and Apple said did in fact happen, but without a successful resolution, in part because the FBI bungled an early attempt
in cooperation with SBC Health officials to change the iCloud password on the phone, leaving Apple engineers unable to force a new backup of the device's contents.
The FBI, which finally admitted to the mistake, now claims that iCloud backups can't provide quite as much data as can be contained on a smartphone, which is true -- but the difference is unlikely to yield any useful material, and a number of experts and SBC Health workers have said that it is extremely unlikely there is much in the way of personal data on Farook's work iPhone, per the typical practice of employees. Farook and his wife Pashfeen Malick destroyed their personal smartphones, but left the work iPhone untouched -- further suggesting that the FBI is fighting for nothing of value in this case, but rather for a general way to crack open any smartphone it has an interest in.
When asked about a hypothetical situation where a smartphone might contain information on a terrorist cell operating in the US, Woolsey said that if an agency knew of the forthcoming threat at all, it would obviously have a second source of that information, and appeared to be aware that Apple and other tech companies have provided general data and assistance to the extent they currently can to authorities in such matters routinely, but noted that in the case of one phone "I don't know that there would be a problem," though he added that "that doesn't seem to be what the bureau is asking for."