While Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and the FBI are still engaged in a public battle over Apple engineer’s reluctance to help law enforcement agencies break into the phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers, Apple has already announced they are working on new security measures which would make it impossible for phones to be hacked through passcode bypassing techniques.
Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread government surveillance and hacking attempts and, more recently, the debate surrounding Apple’s refusal to comply with a subpoena to provide the FBI with data have made tech companies increasingly conscious of the need to protect their users’ data from government intrusion. Many companies are now developing patches and new security solutions to prevent hacks not only from malicious hacker wanting to steal user data but also from the government.
Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook made it clear protecting their customers is a priority for Apple. He said, “we have even put that data out of our own reach because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.” Apple is especially worried that the FBI are only pretending to want to break into a specific phone and that what they are truly after is a way to reliably hack into any iPhone given that there are reportedly hundreds of iPhones involved in criminal cases whose data is inaccessible because it is encrypted.
Conventional phone carriers already have to give law enforcement agencies access to their data because of federal wiretapping laws but those laws were adopted before smartphones were widely used and as such they do not clearly state whether tech companies like Google and Apple can also be subpoenaed for data on their devices.
There is not enough consensus in Congress for a new law regulating the extent to which tech companies must give agencies like the FBI access to their user data and especially with presidential elections coming up there is not much appetite among either the Republicans or the Democrats to open up a debate on such a divisive issue. Thus, the Justice Department has no alternative but fight for access to phone data in court, one device at a time.
Apple’s announcement is sure to bring some level of reassurance to both its customers and its investors. For years, Apple has built a reputation as a company creating exceptionally safe devices immune to most hacking attempts. If they are defeated in court and somehow forced to break into their own devices, the company could lose some of its clients.