Security? Or freedom? Those questions keep popping up like an automatic smartphone app, most recently after last Tuesday's terrorist bombings in Brussels. And just before that, after the December terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.
How intensively should people be searched at airports? How much access should government have to our digital lives? Too much emphasis on security, and some people will stop using devices from American companies and turn to those from China, South Korea and elsewhere.
A major front in the battle has been the FBI's demand that Apple Inc. write new computer codes to open the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. But just before the Brussels attack, the FBI acknowledged that it didn't need Apple's help to crack the phone.
The Press Enterprise reported, "The U.S. Justice Department said Monday that it found an 'outside party' that might be able to crack the security encryption of an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino shooting - a move that could end the high-powered court fight to force Apple engineers to do the work."
The Israeli website Ynetnews reported Wednesday: "The FBI has been reportedly using the services of the Israeli-based company Cellebrite in its effort to break the protection on a terrorist's locked iPhone, according to experts in the field familiar with the case." On Thursday, the BBC reported that Cellebrite replied to an inquiry "that it works with the FBI but would not say more."
Cellebrite's website explains its services include, "File system extractions, decoding and analysis can be performed on locked iOS devices with a simple or complex passcode. ... If a complex password is set on the device, physical extraction can be performed without access to emails and keychain."
As large and powerful a company as Apple is, it's puny compared with the vast resources of the U.S. government, which include the ability to hire any company to do its work, whether based in this country or in friendly countries, like Israel. This ability long has been known, for example, in James Bamford's books on the National Security Agency, an even more powerful spying agency than the FBI.
Terrorism must be fought. But the next time the government wants to violate our Fourth Amendment right "against unreasonable searches and seizures," let's remember how it initially overreached in the iPhone case.
REPRINTED FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER