The federal government has been piling increasing pressure on Apple to unlock the phone of the Pensacola shooter, and Apple has been steadfast in its stance against backdoors. But an investigation by OneZero reveals that law enforcement agencies in at least 11 states have accessed phone-cracking tools in the last decade in deals that amount to over $4 million.
Third-party companies are stepping in to do that which Apple vehemently refuses — and it’s legal.
A battle between privacy and the good of the people — The fight for privacy is turning into an all-out war. Tech companies like Apple fear that backdoor access of any sort leaves open the enormous possibility of mass cyber-crime and invasions of privacy. As the front lines of this battle rage on, third-party companies are using the grey-area legality of current U.S. policy to sell backdoors to law enforcement.
Legislation needs to catch up with the reality — Apple’s hard stance on backdoors has been echoed by other tech giants like Microsoft. But these words don’t mean much when anyone with enough money can hire someone to unlock phones. OneZero only reached out to about 50 police departments — many others are probably using this software, too. The grey-space legality of this software is only going to become less clear as it’s used more frequently to unlock phones. If the federal government hopes to catch up (and get ahead of) this hot-button issue, it will need to do so as soon as possible. That might be difficult, given that the Trump administration is very fond of backdoors.
Companies involved say ‘don’t worry, we’re doing the right thing’ — Of the companies selling software and hardware needed to unlock phones to law enforcement, only two responded to OneZero’s inquiries. Both told a similar story: we’re doing the right thing for the good of the public by assisting law enforcement in unlocking phones.
The highest-profile of these companies, Israel-based Cellbrite, was reportedly used by the federal government to unlock the phone belonging to the San Bernadino shooter. “Our technology is used by thousands of organizations globally to lawfully access and analyze very specific digitial data as part of ongoing investigations,” a Cellbrite spokesperson said. “This aids in unearthing evidence to bring understanding and resolution to cases.”
Paraben Corporation’s CEO Amber Shroader sings a similar tune: “The premise of digital forensics is seeking the truth in the data, and that benefits anyone involved in an investigation.”