How important is your iPhone privacy? Does it defeat law enforcement’s interest in obtaining evidence of child pornography productions from your iPhone? According to a recent New York Times article, Apple decided to plug a privacy hole in its iPhone through which law enforcement could crawl. This plug was in response to FBI’s previous end-run around iPhone software. You can read more about FBI v. Apple — Round 1 — here.
As the Times article makes clear, Indiana law enforcement officials used a $15,000.00 device from Gray Shift to unlock 96 iPhones in 2018, each time with a warrant. In Round 1, the magistrate judge essentially ordered Apple to create a back door through the iPhone’s encryption for the FBI to use. This overreaching doesn’t exist in Round 2. It doesn’t appear the Indiana warrants required Apple to create a back door. As with real property cases, law enforcement has a right to forcibly enter your property once they have a warrant.
But Apple’s plug now makes such devices likely obsolete. In so doing, Apple has made it harder for law enforcement to access your iPhone even when there is a warrant. Some district attorneys have argued, as pointed out in the article, that Apple is “blatantly protecting criminal activity.” Viewing Apple this way is black and white: either there is easy third party access and Apple is good or no third party access but then Apple is bad.
In so doing, a middle road is ignored. When law enforcement obtains a warrant to search your bitcoin that is stored in a Switzerland bunker, they will not be able to access it without help. The bunker is not linked to the internet. While the FBI could physically access the bunker, if necessary, the data on the blockchain is meaningless. All identities are protected by crypto hash signatures. One solution would be for the owner of the bunker — your bitcoin landlord — to obtain the information needed about your account and submit it to the judge for private (“in camera”) review. This solution was proposed in Round 1.
By giving evidence from an iPhone to the judiciary, Apple could proudly assist law enforcement’s prosecution of child pornography, among other things. At the same time, Apple could still keep plugging otherwise revenue loss causing privacy holes.