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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Apple debunks 'gave data to China' myth at congressional hearing

Apple debunks 'gave data to China' myth at congressional hearing
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Apr 19, 2016, 07:47 PM
 
During today's congressional hearing before the House of Representatives' Energy & Commerce committee, one of the few bits of new information uncovered in the otherwise-helpful discussion between members of the committee and various members of both the law-enforcement community and a bank of various security experts (including Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell) was a flat denial from Apple that it had ever complied with requests for data from Chinese authorities.

"We have not provided source code to the Chinese government. We did not have a key 19 months ago that we threw away," Sewell said in testimony before the committee. "We have not announced that we are going to apply passcode encryption to the next generation of iCloud. I just want to be very clear on that, because we heard three allegations; those allegations have no merit." Sewell went on to clarify that Apple would not rule out the possibility of encrypting to the passcodes used for iCloud backups -- which are encrypted, but for which Apple does have a "key" that allows decryption -- but that the company has not announced any plans for such a feature.

The ability to decrypt iCloud backups in the case of the death of the owner, or if needed for a lawful warrant, was what enabled Apple to provide the last known iCloud backup of the work-issued iPhone 5c to the FBI in the case of the San Bernardino workplace massacre. Often overlooked in media reports on the subsequent lawsuit between the FBI and Apple is the fact that Apple provided the last known iCloud backups to the agency on its request, prior to the court proceedings -- the FBI was seeking Apple's help in obtaining the updated contents of the iPhone 5c, which Apple could not assist with.

Sewell with security experts at today's panels
Sewell with security experts at today's panels


The FBI subsequently ended up abandoning an attempt to use the courts to force Apple to compromise the iPhone's security, and found another exploit it used to break into the seized iPhone 5c. It has since admitted that nothing of value was found, though it claims it is "still analyzing" the data. A number of Apple's anti-encryption critics have variously claimed -- without any evidence to support the claims -- that Apple decrypted data or provided source code to enable the Chinese government to do so in order to gain a foothold in the Chinese market.

In further questioning on the matter, and in response to claims from Indiana State Police Captain Charles Cohen, Sewell elaborated that while it had received two source code requests from the Chinese government, Apple had not to date complied with any of them. Under rebuttal questioning by Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Cohen was forced to admit that his "source" for the claim were unverified media reports.



In its recent Transparency report, Apple said it had received 32 requests for information from the Chinese government regarding some 6,724 accounts in 2015, a notable rise from the 24 requests related to 85 accounts the company had received six months earlier. Sewell did not clarify if Apple had complied with any routine Chinese law-enforcement requests as it does in the United States. The number of Chinese requests pales in comparison with requests from US authorities, who enlisted Apple assistance some 30,000 times in 2015.

The two panels on which Sewell appeared both served to allow him to make his case against any law that would force a "backdoor" into smartphone or other device security, the latter panel with a passel of security experts that were there to educate congresspeople on the implications of weakening security. Sewell summed up the fundamental conflict as a difference of "world views:" while law enforcement sees smartphones and other such devices as repositories of possibly useful information that make it easy for them to gather direct and indirect information for crime prevention or evidence, "technologists," Sewell said, "see the world as providing ever-more other avenues for law enforcement to get such information in other ways -- and this will only increase exponentially."

He also told committee members, some of whom were clearly struggling to understand both the technology and the reasons why Apple was so staunchly defending its stance against helping law enforcement in the particular manner of deliberately weakening its security, that any "backdoor" into Apple products would create issues for "100 percent" of its users, rather than just the targets of criminal investigations. Law enforcement officials, on the other hand, repeatedly played the fear card as an argument against encryption, citing theoretical and real criminal cases where certain information was located inside a locked iPhone that was linked to various violent crimes.

Chief of Intelligence for the New York Police Department Thomas Galati told the representatives that he 67 Apple devices that the department was unable to open due to the passcode and encryption used, in association with crimes such as rape, murder, and shootings. Sewell acknowledged that a lack of encryption would make law enforcement's job easier, but said it would come at too high a price -- that of endangering all users. He noted that he and his office work with law enforcement on a daily basis, and complies with 82 percent of such requests.

NY Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati
NY Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati


The hearing, titled "Deciphering the Debate Over Encryption: Industry and Law Enforcement Perspectives," was largely useful for bringing forth the various viewpoints and enlightening the congressional representatives on the latest developments in the debate, but did not (and was unlikely to) "move the needle" much. The unified front that the security experts and Sewell presented in condemning recent attempts by federal agencies, law enforcement, and a recent Senate bill to undermine security.

Sewell noted that he had proposed -- implying that the agency had not yet accepted -- casual meetings between the various Department of Justice agencies and Apple in order to try and bridge the fundamentally different perspectives the two sides had. He reiterated that he remained open to such meetings, an idea that found a warm reception among the committee members. Sewell had apparently been proposing such meetings since before the San Bernardino case, in which the action of the FBI in suing the iPhone maker caught Apple by surprise, particularly when the agency was able to convince a judge to issue an ex parte order, meaning Apple was not invited to the court proceeding and offered no chance to present its arguments in that case.
     
iphonerulez
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Apr 19, 2016, 08:28 PM
 
Exactly who is spreading the myth that Apple is giving data to China. They should find out who is spreading that rumor and prosecute them.
     
Charles Martin
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Apr 19, 2016, 09:24 PM
 
The problem is that the people spreading this bs are the people who prosecute ...
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SierraDragon
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Apr 19, 2016, 11:44 PM
 
What Charles said.

Courts allow LEOs to lie to suspects. It is perhaps no wonder that LEOs lie to citizens as a matter of course, all the time. It is who they are.

Indiana State Police Captain Charles Cohen no doubt thought it his "right" as a LEO to promulgate lies about Apple and China. The FBI clearly thought it their "right" to intentionally deceive the public and say they only had one iPhone in mind with their San Bernardino scam.
     
Inkling
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Apr 20, 2016, 08:10 AM
 
"Debunked" is the wrong term. It suggests genuine evidence was presented. What we have hear is a mere "denial." Apple's a very secret company. Few on the outside even know what new products it is developing. Doing this source code revealing covertly would be even easier. Note too this comment: "They should find out who is spreading that rumor and prosecute them." Free speech is fading fast in this country. For many, it means no more that "I get to say what I want. You don't and should be prosecuted." That is scary.
Author of Untangling Tolkien and Chesterton on War and Peace
     
Charles Martin
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Apr 20, 2016, 12:06 PM
 
As a) Apple is a publicly-traded company that can be sued if it or its officers issue untrue statements and b) Sewell was under oath during the hearing, I'm afraid your wrong. The revelation of the figures of government requests (domestic and foreign) and Apple's response is a matter of record, and debunks the claims. You might try watching the actual hearing to see Captain Cohen get his rear end handed to him by Representative Eshoo.
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Flying Meat
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Apr 20, 2016, 12:19 PM
 
Free speech does not mean you get to say whatever you want without consequence, Inkling.

You can call someone a jerk in public, and you likely will not suffer legal action.
If you have facts backing up a more serious assertion, you might not suffer legal action.
If you falsely accuse someone in public (slander), you could well face legal action.

Then of course there's the conditional speech limitations such as inciting panic or riotous behavior, where real demonstrable harm occurs.

You cannot be immune to any and all results of your speech, just by invoking "Free Speech!"
     
Makosuke
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Apr 20, 2016, 05:14 PM
 
Let's be clear about something here:

Free speech is what the government can and can't force me to say. I can say stupid and wrong things all I want if they cause no harm, and it's completely legal. If I knowingly say wrong things with the intent to harm someone--defamation, slander, and libel (if it's in print)--that's not a crime, in that I cannot be prosecuted or put in jail for any of those things. I can, however, be held liable in a civil trial, so someone can sue me for damages (usually limited to actual loss) for lying about them with intent to cause them material harm.

Lying *under oath*, however, is explicitly a crime--perjury. It is a prosecutable felony, and I can go to jail over it.

In a Congressional hearing, the people testifying are under oath, and therefore liable for perjury if they knowingly lie. Heck, we impeached a president for *exactly* that crime.

So if an Apple spokesperson says "we did not do this" in a Congressional hearing, that's not just a press release--if it is a lie, it is a criminal act. There would also be the potential for a civil case or class-action lawsuit, but it's a felony before any of that.

Same goes for the FBI or other law enforcement people testifying--although it's much harder to prove whether they're lying in many of their claims, those lies to Congress would be criminal.

So if I publish information that Apple is providing source code to China even though it's made up, it's possible I could be sued for libel by Apple, but it's not a crime. If I am giving sworn testimony and say that I read that and believed it, I'm not committing a crime. If I'm giving sworn testimony and I say that knowing it's a lie, I *am* committing a crime.
     
   
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