UN To Apple: Don’t Give In To FBI Request To Crack Terrorist iPhone

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The United Nations high commissioner for human rights implored Apple Inc. Friday to not give in to the FBI’s request to crack into the iPhone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook.

High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned the outcome of the case against the tech company would likely result in far-reaching consequences for human rights and constitute opening a “Pandora’s Box.”

“The FBI deserves everyone’s full support in its investigation into the San Bernardino killings,” Zeid said in a statement. “This was an abominable crime, and no one involved in aiding or abetting it should escape the law. But this case is not about a company – and its supporters — seeking to protect criminals and terrorists, it is about where a key red line necessary to safeguard all of us from criminals and repression should be set.”

For Zeid, there are a litany of other ways the FBI could investigate Farook’s accomplices without gaining access to the iPhone.

The high commissioner agreed with security experts that there is “no shortage of security forces around the world who will take advantage of the ability to break into people’s phones if they can.”

The FBI wants  Apple to create a custom operating system to replace the native system on Farook’s iPhone. Cybersecurity experts at the FBI could then hook up the iPhone to a laptop via USB cable and try unlimited guesses for the passcode. The FBI wants Apple to remove delays on guessing the passcode and also turn off the option — which may or may not be enabled — that deletes all data on the iPhone after a certain number of incorrect guesses.

The new operating system would be cryptographically signed by Apple, which compounds Apple’s fear that the code could potentially be ported to other iPhones, even though the FBI said Apple can remain in possession of the code and tie it exclusively to Farook’s phone.

As security experts have pointed out, however, even if Apple is in exclusive possession of the code, the value of it is tremendous, and so it’s likely that other governments, intelligence agencies and hackers will try every trick in the book to get their hands on the software. This doesn’t bode well for human rights activists around the world who often depend on encryption technologies to evade authoritarian state apparatuses.

“A successful case against Apple in the US will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world,” said Zeid. “It is potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes, as well as to criminal hackers.”

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