Today, law enforcement sources told CNN there was no critical data on the iPhone at the center of the battle between the Department of Justice and Apple, which some were predicting all along.
In other words, the government didn’t need the iPhone’s data. It needed the absence of data. But security experts have been telling the government — which should itself be overflowing with security experts — that all it’d find was the absence of data.
In the CNN story, the passive voice abounds: the hack “has produced” data, which data “has helped in probe.… The data is still being analyzed and more leads are being followed.” But the story warrants active subjects: the FBI, as it should’ve known would be the case, found no useful data on the San Bernardino iPhone.
While we can’t necessarily fault the FBI for pursuing all leads, we can fault the FBI for pursuing all leads in such a heedless manner. To all rational, informed observers, it was obvious that there could be no data on Syed Farook’s iPhone 5c. Farook and his wife were otherwise meticulous in their attempts to erase or destroy personal data: they destroyed their personal phones and stashed computer hard drives. The iPhone 5c was Farook’s work phone, which he mindlessly left in his mother’s Lexus.
In addition, the government already knew what it so vehemently sought to find. It already had access to the relevant information — or, rather, informational dearth — in iCloud data (to which the government had access), phone company data (to which the government has access), and internet service provider data (again, to which the government has access). The iPhone itself had very little left to offer, aside from a vague and relatively unsubstantiated prayer that Farook had mindlessly tucked away ISIS contacts within his work phone. And yet the FBI brought Apple to court and then shadily hired an “outside party” to do its dirty work and hack into the phone.
Here’s CNN reporting on the FBI:
“FBI investigators now have concluded there was data on the phone they didn’t have previously, law enforcement officials said, declining to offer more specifics.”
If we’re engaging in semantics and not computer science, we can call an absence of data itself data. And all signs point to that interpretation.