FILE - In this April 30, 2015 file photo, Apple CEO Tim Cook responds to a question during a news conference at IBM Watson headquarters, in New York. Cook is getting an award from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. The award is to be presented to Cook on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Justice Department Wants Apple to Fix the FBI’s Own Mistake

By now you should be familiar with the Justice Department’s case against Apple. The department argues that Apple should be required to build a backdoor into the iPhone of a dead terrorist.

The emotions of the case, because the terrorist was the San Bernardino terrorist in California, work against Apple. But the media has done a terrible job reporting the basic facts.

The very basic fact is that Apple is being asked to fix the FBI’s mistake. The phone in question, used by the terrorist, had been issued by the San Bernardino health department. It connected to iCloud. The San Bernardino health department, on instructions from the FBI, reset the password to the phone.

One of those methods would have involved connecting the iPhone to a known Wi-Fi network and triggering an iCloud backup that might provide the FBI with information stored to the device between the October 19th and the date of the incident.

Apple sent trusted engineers to attempt that method, the executives said, but they were unable to do it. It was then that they discovered that the Apple ID password associated with the iPhone had been changed sometime after the terrorist’s death — within 24 hours of the government taking possession of the phone. By changing the password, the government foreclosed its ability to obtain a fresh copy of the most recent device data via this back-up-to-known-wifi method.

The FBI had claimed in a court filing on Friday that the password was changed by someone at the San Bernardino Health Department, writing, “[T]he owner, in an attempt to gain access to some information in the hours after the attack, was able to reset the password remotely.”

On Friday night, however, the San Bernardino County’s official Twitter account stated, “The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI’s request.”

So Apple sent engineers to help retrieve data from the phone. But Apple was unable to do so because the FBI had the San Bernardino County health department reset the iCloud password.

Now the Justice Department wants to force Apple to build a backdoor into a phone the FBI messed us. It was not Apple’s fault and they should not be forced to comply.

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Erick Erickson

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