Apple v. Federal Bureau of Investigation – Part I

On December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, walked into a banquet room at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, armed with semi-automatic weapons. At the time, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health was holding a training event and holiday party.  Approximately 75-80 people were in attendance. The couple opened fire, and in a matter of several minutes, killed 14 people and seriously injuring 22 others. The couple left the scene before the police arrived at the crime scene.

Immediately thereafter, law enforcement officials started a search for the couple who left in a black SUV. Based on a tip from one of Farook’s neighbors, officers went to his home and a car chase ensued. The SUV eventually stopped and there was an exchange of gunfire between the couple and officers. The couple was killed in the five-minute exchange.

While investigating the case, investigators found a possible link to a foreign terrorist group thereby ruling it a terrorist attack. However, after FBI investigations, it was concluded the couple were “homegrown violent extremists” inspired by foreign terrorist groups. The investigation stated they were not directed by a particular foreign terrorist group or part of any terrorist cell.

This attack is the biggest terrorist attack on domestic soil since 9/11. Within the first 24 hours following the attack, the FBI made a major error in its investigation. The investigators locked themselves out of Farook’s iPhone. At the time, the FBI believed that by resetting the iCloud password, they would obtain access to information stored on the iPhone. However, the opposite happened and now the FBI has locked itself out and eliminated a way to get in.

On February 9, 2016, the FBI announced it could not access what was stored on Farook’s iPhone. As a result, it asked Apple to create a new software that could be installed to disable certain security features. Apple refused to create the new software, citing its policy to never undermine security features of its products. The FBI then applied for a court order and was successful. The court ordered Apple to create the software requested pursuant to the All Writs Act of 1789. Apple announced it was intending to oppose the order, stating the creation of the software would place its customers’ privacy at risk. On February 19, 2016, the Department of Justice filed an application to urge a federal judge to compel Apple to comply with the order.  In the application, the Department of Justice stated that the software could be installed in Apple’s premises, and after the FBI hacked the phone, Apple could remove and destroy the software.

At the end of the day, this is about national security and consumer privacy.  Apple, known for its dedication to protect consumer privacy, does not want to create a “backdoor” to security measures on its devices. Creating this backdoor would essentially place its consumers at risk.  However, by not creating this backdoor, the FBI is pushed into a corner in its investigation. If the FBI is unable to hack the iPhone, then it is unable to gather more information about the attackers and possible connections to other homegrown violent extremists.

At our law firm, we assist clients with legal issues related to intellectual property, technology, and privacy. You may contact us to set up an initial consultation.