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The FBI have unlocked the iPhone, but will it set a precedent?

Posted by Unlock Editor. on

So, the FBI have done it. They (apparently with the help of an as yet unnamed company) have unlocked the iPhone which Apple refused to unlock for them. Sometime ago I wrote an article on this and we held a survey on what our visitors to Unlock my iPhone thought was the right thing to do. Like many technology leaders, from Zuckerberg to Gates, the results of our quick survey were highly mixed. 60% of people believed that Apple should have unlocked the phone. The rest agreed with Apple's stance on not unlocking it.

One of the reasons Apple cited for not unlocking the iPhone was that it would require a team of engineers to work out how to do it. But now Apple face a new problem: if the FBI can break the iPhone's security, then they are going to be just as busy trying to find ways to secure their software from any potential intrusion.

In the long run, it might have been easier and cheaper for Apple to have helped the FBI - at least that way they would have had control of the hacking technology and would be able to patch up any vulnerabilities. Now, they might not even know how the FBI gained access to the iPhone's data, and that is something that to an engineer will be extremely frustrating. (The government might even classify the method to ensure it can be repeated).

I suppose the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Now that the FBI can access locked iPhones, (and presumably most of Apple's technology range), and if one day that access is used to save lives and thwart a terrorist or criminal plot, then public opinion will turn decidedly against Apple's stance. Apple has lost control of the situation now, and their technology is demonstrably vulnerable to government authorities. What they feared if they were forced to create a hack on behalf of the FBI (that it would mean no iPhone is safe), has now happened, and they have little chance of controlling it. As the old saying goes: "it might have been better to have them inside the tent peeing out, rather than outside the tent peeing in."

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