A week ago, I mentioned the ongoing wrangle between Apple and the FBI over the encryption on an iPhone. Though it might not seem at first to be related to e-books, it could potentially be used to reveal anything people do on their phones, including what e-books they read.
Yesterday afternoon, at the start of Apple’s presentation on the new iPhone and iPad, CEO Tim Cook spoke to the issue, promising customers that Apple would continue to fight for their privacy.
Today was supposed to be the day the hearing between the FBI and Apple kicked off, with both sides calling and cross-examining witnesses. But yesterday afternoon, the FBI abruptly told the judge that “an outside party” showed them another way they might be able to unlock the iPhone—and the FBI requested the hearing be canceled for the time being while they looked into it. The judge agreed, and stayed the order requiring Apple to assist the FBI in the matter.
So, apparently that’s that. The FBI has backed down—for the moment, at least. (It could again demand Apple’s help if the method it plans to try doesn’t work out.) For its part, Apple wants to know more about what method the FBI does plan to use to hack into the phone—because it could represent an exploit that Apple needs to fix going forward. However, if the FBI does end up deciding to drop its case against Apple, Apple will be out of luck finding out.
Even if it is the end of the matter for now, the question of whether phone manufacturers can be compelled to unlock their phones will surely be back again somewhere down the road. The more secure phones get, the harder time law enforcement will have cracking them—and sooner or later the phone at issue won’t belong to a dead terrorist whose crimes are in the past, but potentially a living terrorist or other criminal who could still pose a threat. What will happen then? That’s a very good question.