The FBI has come out defending its decision to hire a third party into breaking into an iPhone which was used by a gunman in last year’s San Bernardino, California. The law enforcement agency told some lawmakers that there was a need for the agency to partner with some for-profit hackers since technology companies continually fight with the government with issues pertaining to encryption and security.
The executive assistant director for science and technology, Amy Hess, issued the comments at a hearing by members of the Congress who are debating on potential legislation over encryption. Present at the gathering were law enforcement authorities and Silicon Valley company executives discussing the issue that has done so much as put a division line between the technology companies and government officials, thereby spurring a debate about privacy and security.
The hearing is thought to be as a result of the standoff between the FBI and Apple over a court order which had been issued to force Apple into giving the FBI a backdoor into a terrorist’s iPhone. Apple was against the order, citing potential harm to its user’s privacy. The FBI however later dropped the demand after hiring a third party to hack the device for them.
The move by the FBI has however done nothing to quench the debate so far. New court cases, proposed legislation and other locked iPhone cases and law enforcement demands just keep on coming after the high-profile initial FBIOS case, with encryption becoming a sore topic.
In the hearing at Congress, Ms Hess did not provide any information on how the government had managed to gain access into the iPhone but said the agency had to team up with private sector partners, to help them keep up with the technological changes. According to her, the agency generally lacked expertise to break past encryption, and were not supposed to use third party hackers.
“These types of solutions that we may employ require a lot of highly skilled, specialized resources that we may not have immediately available to us,” Ms. Hess said.
Some of the Congress people feel discomfort with the use of grey hat hackers, who sometimes push the limits of the law and anger tech companies to find flaws in systems, though they are actions are entirely harmless.
Representative Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat said, “I don’t think relying on a third party is a good model.” She also questioned whether the act was ethical and if it was safe enough so as to not put sensitive data into outside groups.
Ms Hess could not directly answer the ethical question, but said the agency had to review its operation to make sure they could identify risks and benefits. The FBI is unwilling to give the identity of its grey hat hacker who got into Farook’s phone for them.
Bruce Sewell, Apple’s legal counsel said encryption did not prevent authorities from solving crime. “As you heard from our colleagues in law enforcement, they have the perception that encryption walls off information to them. But technologists and national security experts don’t see the world that way. We see a data-rich world that seems to be full of information. Information that law enforcement can use to solve — and prevent — crimes,” he said.