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Saturday, 19 March 2016 14:03

FBI bid to speed up things in stoush with Apple Featured

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The hearing set down for March 22 in the Apple-FBI stoush will see cross-examination of those who made court filings following a request made by the US Department of Justice.

The case revolves around the FBI's demand that Apple provide a modified version of its mobile operating system so that the agency can try to guess the pass code of an iPhone 5C. Apple has refused to grant the FBI's demand.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym issued the original order.

The iPhone that the FBI wants to access belongs to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health; it was being used by its employee Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two terrorists who launched an attack last December that killed 14 people. The FBI has asked Apple to create a new version of iOS that will remove the limits on the number of tries one can make to guess the pass code and also the time intervals between attempts.

The request for an evidentiary hearing was made on Wednesday, according to a report in the technology news site Engadget. It said Apple's lawyers had speculated that ths request was made because the FBI's legal arguments alone were judged to be insufficient to prevail.

Apple has protested, saying that the request should have been made weeks ago, not less than a week before the date of the hearing.

The report said Apple's user privacy manager Erik Neuenschwander and its global privacy and law enforcement compliance team manager Lisa Ollie would be present; both filed statements with the court. Two FBI agents who filed declarations about the case will also be there.

In his filing, submitted when Apple lodged a motion asking that the FBI's motion to compel it to obey the court order be vacated, Neuenschwander said that if the government got its way, then he would be the likely person tasked with getting it organised.

He said carrying out the task "would necessitate between six and ten Apple engineers and employees dedicating a very substantial portion of their time for two weeks at a minimum, and likely as many as four weeks. This includes, in addition to myself, at least two engineers from Apple’s core operating system group, a quality assurance engineer, a project manager, and either a document writer or a tool writer (depending on whether Apple is writing the tool to submit passcodes electronically or a protocol so that the government can do so). This does not include the other personnel who would support those individuals."

Neuenschwander's filing said: "The first step in the process would be for Apple to design and create an operating system that can accomplish what the government wants. No such operating system currently exists with this combination of features. Moreover, Apple cannot simply remove a few lines of code from existing operating systems. Rather, Apple will need to design and implement untested functionality in order to allow the capability to enter passcodes into the device electronically in the manner that the government describes."

He added that "creating the ability to enter passcodes into a device electronically with no software-imposed delays would entail modifying existing code to remove delays as well as writing new code that manages a connection to another device and, using a communications protocol that would also have to be designed, allows the other device to submit test passcodes and receive and process the result of those tests. The means for establishing such connection could include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or direct cable connection".

Numerous other requirements were also listed by Neuenschwander, including the amount of documentation and process that would have to be created in order to provide the modified iOS — which Apple has called GovtOS — to the FBI and then secure it against leaking to any outsiders.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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