Is It All Just A Publicity Stunt: Apple Unlocked iPhones For The Feds 70 Times Before

Tyler Durden's picture

The event that has gripped the tech and libertarian community over the past 48 hours has been Tim Cook's stern refusal to comply with a subpoena demanding that Apple unlock the iPhone 5C belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters for a full FBI inspection.

As reported previously, Judge Sheri Pym of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said on Tuesday that Apple must provide "reasonable technical assistance" to investigators seeking to unlock data on - in other words hack - an iPhone 5C that had been owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters.

So far Tim Cook has refused to comply, saying said his company opposed the demand from the judge to help the FBI break into the iPhone. Cook said that the demand threatened the security of Apple's customers and had "implications far beyond the legal case at hand."

He added that "the government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals," he said.   "We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack."

Cook's summary:

"The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge."

On the surface, this appears like valiant attempt by the CEO of the world's most valuable company to stand up against the Big Brother state made so famous in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations.

However, a quick peek beneath the surface reveals something far less noble and makes Tim Cook seem like you average, if very cunning, smartphone salesman.

According to the The Daily Beast's Shane Harris, in a similar case in New York last year, Apple acknowledged that it could extract such data if it wanted to. But the real shocker is that according to prosecutors in that case, Apple has unlocked phones for authorities at least 70 times since 2008. (Apple doesn’t dispute this figure.)

As Harris observantly adds, "in other words, Apple’s stance in the San Bernardino case may not be quite the principled defense that Cook claims it is."

Here are the details of the NY case:

In New York, as in California, Apple is refusing to bypass the passcode feature now found on many iPhones.


But in a legal brief, Apple acknowledged that the phone in the meth case was running version 7 of the iPhone operating system, which means the company can access it. “For these devices, Apple has the technical ability to extract certain categories of unencrypted data from a passcode locked iOS device,” the company said in a court brief.


Whether the extraction would be successful depended on whether the phone was “in good working order,” Apple said, noting that the company hadn’t inspected the phone yet. But as a general matter, yes, Apple could crack the iPhone for the government. And, two technical experts told The Daily Beast, the company could do so with the phone used by deceased San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, a model 5C. It was running version 9 of the operating system.


Still, Apple argued in the New York case, it shouldn’t have to, because “forcing Apple to extract data… absent clear legal authority to do so, could threaten the trust between Apple and its customers and substantially tarnish the Apple brand,” the company said, putting forth an argument that didn’t explain why it was willing to comply with court orders in other cases.


“This reputational harm could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue,” Apple said.

In other words, it was all about the brand. Which leads to Harris' damning punchline:

Apple’s argument in New York struck one former NSA lawyer as a telling admission: that its business reputation is now an essential factor in deciding whether to hand over customer information.

Others agreed: "I think Apple did itself a huge disservice,” Susan Hennessey, who was an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the NSA, told The Daily Beast. The company acknowledged that it had the technical capacity to unlock the phone, but “objected anyway on reputational grounds,” Hennessey said. Its arguments were at odds with each other, especially in light of Apple’s previous compliance with so many court orders.

Curiously, it was not until after the revelations of former-NSA contractor Edward Snowden that Apple began to position itself so forcefully as a guardian of privacy protection in the face of a vast government surveillance apparatus, Harris adds. Perhaps Apple was taken aback by the scale of NSA spying that Snowden revealed. Or perhaps it was embarrassed by its own role in it. The company, since 2012, had been providing its customers’ information to the FBI and the NSA via the so-called PRISM program, which operated pursuant to court orders.

The NSA made it quite clear that Apple customers are their favorite in a presentation that was disclosed by Snowden:

That... and the revelation that on at least 70 previous occasions AAPL had complied with a comparable unlock request.

However, with such a high profile case, perhaps a light bulb went off over Tim Cook's head, one which Harris once again explains best:

... it may have as much to do with public relations as it does with warding off what Cook called “an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers."

After all, what better way to boost sagging iPhone sales for the company whose stock recently entered a bear market than by being constantly talked about in the media 24/7, a company which has taken on the admirable role of being the noble David taking on the evil Big Brother Goliath.

But while AAPL milking the San Bernardino deaths for its own PR campaign is deplorable if perfectly reasonable, what is more disturbing is that for the government to play along, it must be in on the plot. Here why:

For now, Apple is resisting the government on multiple grounds, and putting its reputation as a bastion of consumer protection front and center in the fight. None of this has stopped the government from trying to crack the iPhone, a fact that emerged unexpectedly in the New York case. In a brief exchange with attorneys during a hearing in October, Judge James Orenstein said he’d found testimony in another case that the Homeland Security Department “is in possession of technology that would allow its forensic technicians to override the pass codes security feature on the subject iPhone and obtain the data contained therein.”


That revelation, which went unreported in the press at the time, seemed to undercut the government’s central argument that it needed Apple to unlock a protected iPhone.


* * *


There was no further explanation of how Homeland Security developed the tool, and whether it was widely used. A department spokesperson declined to comment “on specific law enforcement techniques.” But the case had nevertheless demonstrated that, at least in some cases, the government can, and has, managed to get around the very wall that it now claims impedes lawful criminal investigations.

Said otherwise, the true trajedy here is not if Apple is engaging in another public relations stunt, but if the government - which is perfectly capable of extracting whatever information it wants from the iPhone - is actively aiding and abeting this cheap attempt to peddle more iPhones to the masses.

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InjectTheVenom's picture

>>>>  PR STUNT

>>>>  Apple legitimately concerned abt users' privacy

nuubee's picture

Apple as a company is a PR stunt. Apple doesn't sell technology, they sell fashion. Their entire business model revolves, not around developing new technology, but about convincing everyone in the world that their single "killer" product is a must-have.

They're literally the louis-vuitton of the tech sector, and people still pay for their shit.

Give me technology that I own and control, not a walled-garden where you piss on me and tell me it's rain.

JLee2027's picture

I thought the Feds wanted Apple to supply the code so they could crack Apple phones themselves, which is why Tim Cook refused. 

kliguy38's picture

dog and pony show for the masses......of course they don't need Apple's permission China doesn't know that Apple is all part of the CONtrol grid already....hehehehheheheheheheehhehe

Dorkface's picture

nsaTunes - sync your PC data directly with Big Brother

Supernova Born's picture

This comes as no shock whatsover.


ACP's picture

Publicity stunt + not to mention the fact that Tim Cook has no problem with the government forcing teen girls to share locker rooms and bathrooms with deranged perverts (CA transvestitie law).

thesonandheir's picture

This is a total and blatant propaganda piece designed to convince Muzzer terrorists that the NSA cannot access data on a telecommunications device when Snowden has clearly revealed that they can do it easier than opening a bag of crisps.


Fuck me, even the terrorists aren't this thick to swallow this pile of turd are they?

philipat's picture

I'm confused. I thought the issue was that the Feds wanted Apple to build a backdoor into the OS which would allow the Feds to access any iPhone anywhere and at any time without a Court order? In which case, I agree with Apple, it should resist. However, if the issue is supervised access to a specific phone if the Feds have reasonable grounds and a judge agrees, then I see no problem.

pemdas's picture

I'll go with false flag. Feds have had the data for weeks, just want the terrorists to think they don't. 

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

...and Trump is right. Again.

TradingIsLifeBrah's picture
TradingIsLifeBrah (not verified) Supernova Born Feb 18, 2016 6:36 PM

Apple said at the beginning that it complied with court orders on the phone in question, which would imply that they have with others as well.  The specific thing Apple did not want was to build a backdoor for the FBI to get into all phones, anytime, anywhere.  This isn't a PR stunt, Apple never changed their story.  The news is just changing how they cover it.  

undertow1141's picture

I wonder if "obstruction of justice charges" whispered in Timmy's ear would change his mind.

Poundsand's picture

Some misleading information here. 

1) 70 phones since 2008.  The phones and operating systems have become more secure, much more secure since.  How many of those phones were pre Iphone 5's?  I am betting all of them.

What happened to good old detective work?  My understanding is that pre-Iphone 5's were easy, but since they have become amazingly secure with a simple 4 or 6 digit code that only allows 10 false entries before it wipes the phone.  You know it must be good or the FBI would not need their help.  Also, the phone was probably never backed up on a local computer or they would be able to hack it and get the same info.

But don't you just love the irony?  A government owned phone, used by a government employee, used in the commission of a terrorist act to kill 14 other government employees.  But they need a public companies help...  go figure.

sushi's picture

The government should launch a suit against the owner of the phone. The owner of the phone is legally responsible for all use of that phone made by an agent of the owner.

Since the owner of the phone is also a government entity, it is likely also subject to freedom of information law which implies that the FBI has grounds to launch a freedom of information suit to force the government owner of the phone to disclose all information contained on a device over which it bears full legal responsibilty.

Finally, any government that employs as its agents persons who are known to be terrorists should be liable as an accessory to any crime committed by those agents. 

If these basic legal principles were followed the outcome would be a complete clusterfuck that would involve the government chasing its tail for the next decade and this would at least keep the government off the back of the citizens.


Hobbleknee's picture

He didn't refuse anything.  He just said he opposed it. Just like I oppose taxes, but I still pay.

Benjamin123's picture

Bah. You could say the same about any computer manufacturer or any OS designer. Computers are not new, gotcha.

sdmjake's picture

Indeed they are a fashion company. (They have gone from appealing to the brains -> to the heart -> to the loins. What other company has ever done that?)

Whether you like em or hate em, this [review of the four horsemen] is worth a few minutes to watch.

LordBuckFast's picture

The truth is virtually everything we are told is BS!

But the elite do not give a damn, as they will soon be looking to run and hide in those nice underground bunkers paid for with citizens taxes, after engineering a full economic collapse as well as starting WW3, plus they will make sure that there are enough Jihadi’s in the West to start a race war.

That should be enough to cover up the failed fiat ponzi scheme and take care of the ‘excessive’ population!

This lays out the elite's psychopathic agenda in minute detail......

zeronetwork's picture

"Unlocked iPhones For The Feds 70 Times Before"

Most probably it was before iOS9. I think In iOS9 intentionally no unlock key is created.

stant's picture

Will his last words be" rosebud" and that's the code for the back door?

Steverino's picture

Unless I read the articles incorrectlyy... the issue is the the FBI court order is requiring Apple to develop signed software and provide that software to the FBI.


That is what Cook is refusing to do.

KesselRunin12Parsecs's picture
KesselRunin12Parsecs (not verified) Feb 18, 2016 4:25 PM


Lumberjack's picture
Indian company briefly sells $4 smartphone before website crashes


Indian phone maker Ringing Bells launched a $4 smartphone on Thursday, with huge customer demand promptly crashing the little-known company's website hours after the phone went on sale.

The Freedom 251 was unveiled a day ahead of the launch and is being sold for 251 rupees ($3.66) - a price that skeptics said was far lower than what its components would cost.

The smartphone went on sale in the morning but the company later stopped accepting orders after its website crashed. "We humbly submit that we are therefore taking a pause," it said in an apology to customers.

Ringing Bells, based in the Delhi satellite city of Noida, was set up only last year and the launch event for the new phone on Wednesday night was attended by a senior leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party.

Company president Ashok Kumar Chadha said the Android smartphone would have pre-installed apps that tie into Modi initiatives such as 'Make in India' and 'Clean India'.


"Let us see what can we do to bring about a real liberation of Freedom to all our brothers and sisters," he said in a speech, referring to the name of the new phone to make a play on words.


Looks like an affordable iphone to me. 

Market share?

r0mulus's picture

Yep. Cook is a damn fraud. iWatch is the high-water mark for Apple.

Can't wait til a better alternative comes along to these government sycophants.

Normalcy Bias's picture

So the Feds are demanding Tim Cook give them some back door?

KesselRunin12Parsecs's picture
KesselRunin12Parsecs (not verified) Normalcy Bias Feb 18, 2016 4:41 PM

iM GAY & I'm PROUD! excuse me all while I get LOUD!

Enki Anu's picture

They already have access to all apple products.
This stunt show is to tell the Sheeps otherwise, so that they won't hesitate to put personal stuff on them, thinking they are protected.
It seems working for most.

BeaverCream's picture

They only unlock the phones of white domestic terrorists, ala Bundy, et. al. 


css1971's picture


Look. You're missing the point. If Apple had designed a secure system. They would be UNABLE to unlock the device without the permission and authorisation of the owner.

Gregory Poonsores's picture
Gregory Poonsores (not verified) Feb 18, 2016 4:32 PM

And science fiction said the government would forcibly put tracking devices in us.

HA! We happily line up and pay for them!



E.F. Mutton's picture

Had it been Cliven Bundy's phone he would have ran out of the bath house nekkid to get that fucker unlocked ASAP

Yes We Can. But Lets Not.'s picture

Well, there's unlocking Joe Schmo's iPhone for Obama.  That's one thing.

Then there's unlocking the iPhone of an Islamist terrorist for Obama.  Maybe the FBI wants that.  But does Obama?

When Obama spoke at Georgetown U. some years back, he had Christian religious symbols in the background covered up.  When he recently spoke at a mosque in Baltimore, he did so in front of numerous religious symbols of Islam, left uncovered.

Captain DoubleSpeak, king of the double standard.

- - - - - -'s picture
- - - - - - (not verified) Feb 18, 2016 4:35 PM

apples lie starts with steve jobs. now lucky retard died by his own stupidity

Abbie Normal's picture

So ignoring a team of top-notch oncologists and following the medical advice of your health guru is not advised -- maybe the smartest person in the room is now in the ground.

dogismycopilot's picture

Fuck. I lost an iphone in Baghdad (long time ago, galaxy far, far away). Fucking Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. Smart little fucks knew not to turn it on. Stupid me: I had photos of an embassy escape route and some new maps (seriously - no joke). I totally fucked up. 

I often think about that Iphone and wonder where it is. 

opt out's picture

Oh Horseshit. They don't want assistance unlocking that phone; they want a key to unlock all phones. Apple will be forced to cave eventually but in the meantime the .gov crowd can fuck off. Want to know about an individuals terroristic proclivities? Start with their public fucking facebook posts - geniuses.

if's picture

The more important issue not being discussed is that the newer A7 based phones with the built-in Secure Enclave will be beyond Apple's ablility to comply with court orders (unless someone finds a flaw in the implementation).  So what then ?  Will we simply ban properly implemented crypto ?

Dr. Venkman's picture

I have read conflicting info on this:

“Why not simply update the firmware of the Secure Enclave too?” I initially speculated that the private data stored within the SE was erased on updates, but I now believe this is not true. Apple can update the SE firmware, it does not require the phone passcode, and it does not wipe user data on update. Apple can disable the passcode delay and disable auto erase with a firmware update to the SE. After all, Apple has updated the SE with increased delays between passcode attempts and no phones were wiped. ...

Update 3: Reframed “The Devil is in the Details” section and noted that Apple can equally subvert the security measures of the iPhone 5C and later devices that include the Secure Enclave via software updates.


as to "Will we simply ban properly implemented crypto ?" -- That is the plan, the end game, don't you think?

if's picture

Allowing a firware update of a locked device would defeat one of the benefits of hardware assisted crypto.  Industry best practices dictate that such an update also triggers a secure wipe.  So all user key material would be lost.  This approach is not unique to Apple, it's also common in Smart Cards, Self Encrypting Drives and TPM chips.  

This link is a bit dated, but presents a pretty good analysis:

And this is Apple's semi-technical explanation which sounds like they know what they're doing:


>>That is the plan

Please surrender your cash, guns, crypto and your Big Gulp.