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Cybersecurity & Standards, Government Surveillance

Poor timing, scrambled strategy mar Feds’ fight with Apple


The Justice Department’s latest legal gambit in its dispute with Apple could hamstring the FBI’s larger push to gain access to encrypted data, even as Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels underscored why law enforcement is so desperately trying to unscramble terrorists’ secret communications.

Tuesday was supposed to be the day when lawyers for Apple and the U.S. government faced off in a courtroom here over the DOJ’s demands that the company help unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in December’s terror-inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino. Instead, the DOJ persuaded a magistrate to cancel the hearing late Monday, saying its investigators would try unlocking the phone with help from an unnamed “outside party.”

“I don’t think the issue is going away, but I do think that these disclosures weaken the FBI’s call for mandated backdoors and strengthen the arguments of those who have said there are alternatives to those backdoors,” said Greg Nojeim, director of the Freedom, Security and Technology Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“The FBI’s claims that it can’t get in without provider assistance will be looked at more skeptically,” he said.

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