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The ongoing back-and-forth between the FBI and Apple over the encryption on the work iPhone of one of the alleged San Bernardino killers continues – with experts and the American public divided on the concepts of safety and privacy when it comes to their mobile data.
Apple opposes a court order issued earlier this month by a federal judge which compels them to help the FBI hack around the encryption on the iPhone 5C of San Bernardino mass killer Syed Farook, which remains locked in the FBI’s possession. Apple says creating the workaround will create a “back door” that will allow almost anyone to hack almost any Apple device.
But the FBI argues it’s not trying to compromise security – and the family members of the San Bernardino victims are reportedly going to file court papers to back their push for the access to the phone.
“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice,” said James Comey, the FBI director, in a statement Sunday night. “We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly.
“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” Comey added.
Comey first publicly told the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month that the Bureau’s experts had been unable to “crack” the security of the phone.
Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik allegedly killed 14 people and wounded 21 others at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2. The couple were killed in a gun battle with police shortly after the shooting – but not before destroying two of their personal cell phones and multiple computer hard drives.
Of particular interest to detectives is an 18-minute window in which authorities cannot account for the two killers’ whereabouts. The couple was chased down and killed in a shootout roughly two hours after the massacre.
A Los Angeles attorney named Stephen Larson told The Associated Press that he represents several families of the victims – and they are planning to file court papers by March 3 which will argue in support of the FBI.
“A lot of the families of the victims, we’re kind of angry and confused as to why Apple is refusing to do this,” said Robert Velasco, whose 27-year-old daughter Yvette Velasco was among those killer in the massacre.
But experts remain divided. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, reportedly has supported the FBI’s play for the encryption workaround. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, has come out in support of Apple. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, tweeted his support of Apple on Wednesday.
"We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders," Pichai wrote. "But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data. Could be a troubling precedent."
The public appears to support the FBI’s right to access phones with proper legal guidance. A Pew Research Center survey shows that 51 percent of the people asked said the FBI should be given the access to the phone, with just 38 percent supporting Apple’s stance.
A key congressman said last week he would consider the possibility of legislation on the encryption issue.
Multiple experts have told Forensic Magazine that the latest Apple and Blackberry products are the most difficult mobile devices to get into.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.