Apple’s top software guy gets in on iPhone-FBI debate

Apple likes to control its message probably more than any other company in the world. There’s a reason why Apple and its officials speak about things only when then want to, and prefer to hold their own “special events” for unveiling new products. When Apple talks, people listen, and when it is the only voice talking, there’s no one else around who can drown out what Apple is saying.

The latest example of Apple talking when Apple wants to came late Sunday, when Craig Federighi, Apple’s vice president of software engineering, wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Washington Post. It’s the first time that an Apple official other than Chief Executive Tim Cook, or Apple’s top lawyer, general counsel Bruce Sewell, had spoken publicly about Apple defying a court order to help the FBI unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the terrorists who killed 14 people in last December’s shooting in San Bernardino. Federighi really didn’t say much more than what Cook said in his manifesto, which Apple first published on Feb. 16.

However, Apple’s software is central to the arguments that the company is making about why it won’t willingly assist the federal government in cracking open the iPhone, which the FBI wants to use as part of its investigation into the shooting. And Federighi is a software guy. There might not be anyone at Apple who is closer to the company’s software offerings. As such, Apple probably feels that by attaching Federighi’s name to its arguments, it’s not just the boss talking, but one of the company’s top tech guys who can lend some gravitas to its anti-unlocking stance.

“The encryption technology built into today’s iPhone represents the best data security available to consumers,” Federighi said. “And cryptographic protections on the device don’t just help prevent unauthorized access to your personal data — they’re also a critical line of defense against criminals who seek to implant malware or spyware and to use the device of an unsuspecting person to gain access to a business, public utility or government agency.”

Note that Federighi ended that part of his op-ed by saying that the security Apple has in place on its devices now is meant to help the government as well as the individual. In other words, Apple is saying it’s on the feds’ side. As such, if Apple does offer to make a sort of skeleton key designed to break open one iPhone, that piece of code could end up in the wrong hands, and cause far more harm than the FBI can imagine with its request.

“That’s why it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies,” Federighi wrote. “When software is created for the wrong reason, it has a huge and growing capacity to harm millions of people.”

With Federighi picking up Cook’s privacy torch, another company voice has been added to Apple’s case. And it looks like Apple won’t be saying anything different anytime soon.

Photo: Protester Victoria Bernal shows off her phone with the message “Backdoors Endanger Everyone” outside of the Apple store in downtown Palo Alto on Feb. 23, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Apple has already admitted in so many words that THERE IS a backdoor, and they have the ability – as a greedy mass-tracking mass-stalking ad-serving corporate empire of greed – to use that backdoor against anyone they wish.

    • Riddle

      Obviously they have a “backdoor,” they’re the maker of the software. This entire debate is whether or not they should share that with the FBI. If you don’t trust companies like Apple or Google to not engage in your conspiracy theories, you must have a pretty hard time existing in today’s world.

      • Conspiracy theory is a classic disinformation tactic. People should ignore your disinformation and instead ask why Apple needs a backdoor to their phone.

        • Riddle

          Is “conspiracy theory” really all you took away from my response? You don’t sound like a very technologically knowledgeable person.

          • I’m a tech developer with 30 years experience, and I made the only response necessary to the classic disinformation. If you decide to change, and respond intelligently with facts rather than emotional posts, a discussion might be possible.

          • Riddle

            Lol, I’m still waiting on your response to the first points I made.

            Really? What kind of developer?

          • I responded to your ‘conspiracy’ nonsense. Next time you respond, have a real point or just shut up.

          • Riddle

            …which was a side note to the actual comment, which you ignored.

  • fstein

    Rex. After Craig makes the case that this is about security, yet you take it back to ‘privacy’. You’ve missed Craig’s point that uhackable devices gives us both security and privacy. We can’t split them apart.
    Going further, encryption is a defense. The FBI wants to disable our defensive weapons, unilaterally. This is not one company, one terrorist. The precedent becomes global. We (US Government) have little control over foreign governments, including rogue state, or non-US global companies.

  • Sillie Abbe

    Something critical is apparently overlooked in the discussions over the backdoor. iPhone and many other smart devices already have valid backdoors, namely, a fingerprint scanner or a set of camera and software for capturing faces, irises and other body features, which can be collected from the unyielding, sleeping, unconscious and dead people.

    It is now known that the authentication by biometrics usually comes with poorer security than PIN/password-only authentication. If Apple wants to claim that they are conscious of privacy and security, they could tell consumers to turn off the biometric functions. If the authority wants to have those backdoors open, they could tell consumers to keep them turned on all the times. And, security-conscious consumers could certainly refrain from turning them on.