This Apple-FBI Fight Is Different From the Last One


Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

This all might sound familiar: After a mass shooting, the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants Apple to build a tool that can unlock the attacker’s iPhones. But don’t expect round two of Apple versus the FBI to necessarily play out like the first. The broad outlines are the same, but the details have shifted precariously.

For all the FBI’s posturing, its attempt to force Apple to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists ultimately ended in a draw in 2016. The FBI dropped its lawsuit after the agency found a third-party firm to crack it for them. Now, the FBI claims that only Apple can circumvent the encryption protections on the two recovered iPhones of Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who killed three people and wounded eight in December at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida. As it did four years ago, Apple has declined.

Apple’s central argument against helping the FBI in this way remains the same: creating a backdoor for the government also creates one for hackers and bad actors. It makes all iPhones less safe, full stop. Since the last Apple-FBI showdown, though, technological capabilities on both sides, the US political landscape, and global pressures have all substantially evolved.

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