Open Technology Institute Opposes Government Attempt to Mandate Backdoor into Apple iPhone

Press Release
Feb. 17, 2016

Washington, D.C. - Yesterday, at the request of the US Department of Justice, a federal magistrate judge ordered Apple to build new software to help the FBI access the locked iPhone used by one of attackers in the San Bernardino shootings. The Open Technology Institute strongly supports Apple’s decision to oppose that order, the precedent of which threatens to undermine not only the integrity of iPhone security but the security of the entire digital ecosystem.

The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, Director of the Open Technology Institute:

"This court order demanding that Apple custom-build malware to undermine its own product’s security features, and then digitally sign that software so the iPhone will trust it as coming from Apple, doesn’t just set us down a slippery slope--it drops us off a cliff. This case isn’t about about just one backdoor into just one iPhone. If Apple builds this backdoor software, our government--and less savory governments around the world--will demand to use this new software every time they encounter an encrypted iPhone. But this isn’t just about iPhones, either: if a court can legally compel Apple to build this backdoor, then it also likely could also compel any other software provider to do the same, including compelling the secret installation of surveillance software via automatic updates to your phone or laptop. Such a broad precedent would spell digital disaster for the trustworthiness of any and every computer and mobile device."

In response to previous pushes by the FBI for legislation to mandate that encrypted devices be redesigned to ensure that the government can access their contents, OTI last summer organized a letter to the White House from an unprecedented coalition of privacy and human rights advocates, the technology industry, and security experts, pressing the President to support strong encryption and oppose backdoors. The White House has since decided not to pursue legislation, nor has there been any meaningful action in Congress.  

"The FBI has already spent the last year arguing for backdoors in front of Congress and at the White House, and now that’s it’s come up empty it’s trying to get a lower court judge to convert a vague, centuries-old catch-all statute into a powerful government hacking statute. That’s not how we make policy in this country, and Apple is right to fight this—a loss would not only undermine its product but its entire industry and the security of every user of digital technology. A line must be drawn here, and we at OTI are eager to continue to fight to ensure that we can continue to trust the security and integrity of the devices we use every day."