Appearing on a video link from Moscow, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told an audience gathered at the Common Cause Blueprint for a Great Democracy conference that the FBI’s assertion that it cannot unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters is “Bullshit”.
“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’ to unlock the phone. Respectfully, that’s bullshit.” Snowden said.
He added that the FBI has been aware of hardware attacks “since the ’90s” that could allow them to get into the phone.
The full interview can be viewed below, with the iPhone comments at around 30 mins.
The FBI has said that it needs Apple to unlock the phone for them by deactivating passcode protections on the phone.
Critics have suggested that this is not true, and that the spy agency is attempting to set a precedent to make Apple write code to undermine its own security protocols, and to co-operate in unlocking phones in the future.
Apple has refused to cooperate, on the grounds of privacy.
Snowden declared that Apple’s stance is “a good example” of technology’s ability to turn the tables on government.
“The FBI would not be as pissed off as they are if it was not effective,” he said.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 8, 2016
Other technological experts have maintained that the FBI could have accessed the contents of the iPhone via its last iCloud backup, but agents working with San Bernardino County chose to reset the iCloud password, effectively locking them out.
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) March 2, 2016
There are still means of accessing the phone’s contents, according to experts, such as “de-capping” the phone’s memory chip to access it outside the phone, or resetting the phone’s internal counter in order to guess the passwords as many times as you want without being locked out.
Meanwhile, in related news, The Guardian reports that “The FBI has quietly revised its privacy rules for searching data involving Americans’ international communications that was collected by the National Security Agency.”
The report notes that “The classified revisions were accepted by the secret US court that governs surveillance, during its annual recertification of the agencies’ broad surveillance powers.”