Quinn: Apple wins major round against FBI

Apple must be throwing a small party right about now.

I can almost see CEO Tim Cook clenching his fist in victory with a “Yes” when he got the news Monday afternoon –  government lawyers were asking for a delay in the hearing in Riverside Tuesday over encryption. The judge in the case issued an indefinite stay of her court order in response.

After all, the government handpicked the case of the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters to push tech companies on the issue of encryption.

The surprising turn of events doesn’t mean that this round in the running encryption battle between Apple and the government over is over. Far from it.

The outsider who has approached the government offering a new way to crack the iPhone might fail.

Is it back to court then? The government said it will give the court a status update on April 5. But don’t expect the government to renew its attack on Apple.

The government thought it had a strong case to compel Apple to help break its iPhone encryption.

Apple threw Ted Olson, Eddy Cue and Tim Cook over and over again at the government’s arguments.  Top Obama administration officials were not even united on the issues.

And, there was even a daunting prospect: The FBI was going to have to explain in court on Tuesday that it had done everything it could without Apple’s help. Technologists on both sides were scheduled to testify.

Someone in the Obama administration must have pulled aside the DOJ lawyers involved and asked – What are we doing here, folks? We are attacking one of the most valuable, beloved American companies in the world and accusing them of things that we accuse your average perp of – lying, exaggerating, not honoring the rule of law, putting innocent people in harms way. Even if we win, we may have to throw a bunch of Apple engineers in jail if they resist a court order to help us. Is this what we want to be doing?

Then someone suggested, Well, there may be some credible alternatives other than making Apple crack the phone.

Yes, Apple should throw a party.

But keep it small.

Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a brief with the court in support of Apple’s position, told me:

To me it lays bare that this was never about getting access to just one phone. Faced with the prospect with explaining to the court all they did to get into the phone, the FBI decided there was just more they could try.

This is good news. The court was going to ask the FBI some serious questions about this. The FBI decided it wanted to do more. I don’t think this issue is over. But the FBI’s tactic thinking that it could pick this horrible case to build legal precedent might not have been the wise one.

We will be fighting over encryption and technology for awhile. And while it’s great that thanks to the publicity around this case, many people are now more informed about the issues, the government’s fight over this particular iPhone has had some effect.

Congressional leaders have drafted bills or are talking about bills on both sides of the issue.  California has a new Assembly bill banning default encryption on all smartphones. Presidential hopefuls are stirred up on the issue.

So save the confetti and the iPhone cake. We won’t know for awhile whether society will decide in the end that the benefits of having super strong security on our technology is worth the possible costs.

As Cohn puts it:

Push back worked. This isn’t about Apple and the FBI. This is about all of us. And it shows that we can stand up to the FBI and force it to think a lot harder. That’s good news for everyone who has a phone.

Above: Tim Cook, Apple CEO.  (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • MarkS2002

    First to say “Yay!”

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  • MarkS2002

    First to say “Yay!”