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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Former CIA Director: Apple 'generally in the right' in FBI dispute

Former CIA Director: Apple 'generally in the right' in FBI dispute
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Mar 11, 2016, 06:54 PM
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."

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Mar 11, 2016, 07:29 PM
Good that a former CIA head gets the real, global danger of this precedent. He's either got much more of a clue on this than the FBI, or, unlike them, actually cares what this would result in internationally.

But then, given that he would know quite well how the international surveillance apparatus works, he probably has a very good idea of exactly how other countries are going to react, and how their spy agencies would be drooling over the prospect of getting their hands on this tool.

When a guy who ran the CIA says his own government's request for a security hack is a bad idea on a global scale, maybe he knows what he's talking about?
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Mar 11, 2016, 08:16 PM
Thank you very much James Woolsey. Finally there's someone in our government who understands what's going on. I'd like to suggest you talk to President Obama and guide him in a better direction than the one he gave at the South by Southwest Interactive convention. The CIA has eyes and ears all over the world and knows what the impact of degrading Apple's, as well as other's, encryption even a little bit. It's embarrassing when Obama says the FBI isn't technically competent to do their own hacking and needs Apple's help. I bet the CIA will never give that excuse. Maybe it's time to dissolve the FBI and fire all their ignorant employees. The DOJ should be next in line for a total restructuring.
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Mar 12, 2016, 02:30 AM
Funny how former heads of government agencies are the only ones that are speaking honestly on this.
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