FBI Begins Telling Congress How It Hacked iPhone

Sen. Dianne Feinstein knows how the FBI unlocked an iPhone. Should Apple get to know too?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
April 6, 2016, 3:24 p.m.

How ex­actly the FBI was able to un­lock the iPhone used by one of the San Bern­ardino shoot­ers re­mains a mys­tery to the pub­lic, but in­vest­ig­at­ors have offered to dis­close their tech­nique to some top mem­bers of Con­gress.

Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein of Cali­for­nia, the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, told Na­tion­al Journ­al this week that the FBI ex­plained to her how agents were able to ac­cess the con­tents of the phone that was at the cen­ter of a high-pro­file court fight. In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Burr, a North Car­o­lina Re­pub­lic­an, said he has been in touch with the FBI, but hasn’t learned about its tech­nique yet. “I have been offered [a brief­ing], but I haven’t taken it,” Burr said.

Jack Langer, a spokes­man for the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, de­clined to say wheth­er the FBI has briefed any House mem­bers on the is­sue. The FBI, the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency, and oth­er in­tel­li­gence agen­cies routinely provide clas­si­fied brief­ings to the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, but oth­er law­makers can have lim­ited ac­cess to the in­form­a­tion.

Al­though the FBI has been reach­ing out to mem­bers of Con­gress to dis­cuss the se­cret­ive tech­nique, both Fein­stein and Burr ar­gued that Apple should re­main in the dark. “I don’t be­lieve the gov­ern­ment has any ob­lig­a­tion to Apple,” Fein­stein said in a sep­ar­ately emailed state­ment. “No com­pany or in­di­vidu­al is above the law, and I’m dis­mayed that any­one would re­fuse to help the gov­ern­ment in a ma­jor ter­ror­ism in­vest­ig­a­tion.”

But Apple is press­ing the FBI for more in­form­a­tion, fear­ing that there could be a flaw in the iPhone’s se­cur­ity, leav­ing it vul­ner­able to crim­in­al hack­ers.

Joe Hall, the chief tech­no­lo­gist for the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy, a di­git­al-rights group, ar­gued that the gov­ern­ment should “dis­close vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies as quickly as pos­sible to the people who can fix them.”

“The FBI and Apple fun­da­ment­ally have the same mis­sion here: to pro­tect people,” he said.

Syed Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in Cali­for­nia, used an iPhone 5C, a re­l­at­ively un­pop­u­lar mod­el, and it’s un­clear wheth­er the FBI’s tech­nique would work on oth­er ver­sions.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­cog­nized that it is of­ten in the pub­lic in­terest to help com­pan­ies bol­ster the cy­ber­se­cur­ity of their products, and in 2010, the White House cre­ated a sys­tem called the “Vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies Equit­ies Pro­cess” for dis­clos­ing se­cur­ity flaws to com­pan­ies.

But the pro­cess al­lows the gov­ern­ment to weigh the be­ne­fits of dis­clos­ing the glitch against the harm to law en­force­ment or in­tel­li­gence in­vest­ig­a­tions. And after a con­ten­tious leg­al show­down, the gov­ern­ment may be re­luct­ant to do any­thing that will make it harder to crack the se­cur­ity of Apple devices. Justice De­part­ment law­yers had asked a fed­er­al judge to or­der Apple to help un­lock the device, but they pulled their re­quest just the day be­fore a cru­cial court hear­ing when they said they had dis­covered an­oth­er way of get­ting in­to the device on their own.

In a pub­lic dis­cus­sion at a pri­vacy con­fer­ence on Tues­day, James Baker, the FBI’s gen­er­al coun­sel, de­clined to say wheth­er in­vest­ig­at­ors have ob­tained any use­ful in­form­a­tion from the iPhone.

In the wake of the court fight, Fein­stein and Burr are put­ting the fi­nal touches on a bill to en­sure the gov­ern­ment can ac­cess en­cryp­ted data. They could un­veil the le­gis­la­tion as soon as this week, they said.

The meas­ure is likely to face fierce res­ist­ance from civil liber­ties ad­voc­ates. Hall said he has not seen a copy of the bill yet, but that any­thing re­quir­ing com­pan­ies to build “back­doors” in­to their products would severely un­der­mine cy­ber­se­cur­ity and em­power hack­ers. “Any­thing with a back­door is not se­cure,” he said.

In a speech last week, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Ore­gon Demo­crat and lead­ing pri­vacy ad­voc­ate, said he would use “every power I have as a sen­at­or to block plans to weak­en strong en­cryp­tion.”

Keith Chu, a spokes­man for Wyden, said that al­though the sen­at­or is a mem­ber of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, he has not yet been briefed on how the FBI hacked the device.

What We're Following See More »
INTENDS TO CALL BY MONDAY
Trump Says He'll Call MBS to Ask About Khashoggi
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump said he plans to call Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump spoke on Saturday during an appearance in the Oval Office with Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was recently released by the Turkish government."

Source:
SAYS HE TREATED HER FAIRLY
Trump on Blasey Ford: "We Won"
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Asked by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, President Trump said he thought he treated Dr. Christine Blasey Ford fairly, even as he was accused of poking fun of her at a rally. He then declined to address the issue further, saying "I'm not going to get into it, because we won. It doesn't matter. We won."

Source:
AUDIO OF TORTURE AND DEATH
Turkish Officials Claim To Have Video Of Khaggoshi's Killing
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"The Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul this month, according to U.S. and Turkish officials. The recordings show that a Saudi security team ... killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said." Late Thursday, Turkey agreed to form a joint committee with Saudi Arabia to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance, signaling Saudi Arabia's likely intent to preempt sanctions from the United States. Members of Congress have asked President Trump curb weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Source:
SAUDIS WERE DISCUSSING PLAN
U.S. Intel Learned of Plot to Capture Khashoggi
3 days ago
THE LATEST
DIALS UP PRESSURE ON TRUMP
Turkey Says It Has Video Proving Khashoggi Was Killed
3 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login