Anti-Surveillance Coalition That Includes Apple Condemns Proposals for Device Backdoors

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes several major tech companies who have teamed up to lobby for surveillance law reform, this week released a statement condemning recent proposals for backdoor access into electronic devices and reaffirming a commitment to strong encryption.

The coalition is made up of multiple tech companies who have taken a strong stance against weakening encryption, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Snap, Evernote, LinkedIn, Oath (owned by Verizon) and Facebook.

Reform Government Surveillance recently announced a new core principle on encryption that will guide our advocacy efforts, and we continue to believe that strong encryption helps protect the security and privacy of individuals and companies around the world. We have consistently raised concerns about proposals that would undermine encryption of devices and services by requiring so-called "exceptional access" for law enforcement. Recent reports have described new proposals to engineer vulnerabilities into devices and services - but they appear to suffer from the same technical and design concerns that security researchers have identified for years. Weakening the security and privacy that encryption helps provide is not the answer.

As ZDNet points out, the statement comes following a WIRED article profiling Microsoft chief technical Ray Ozzie and his suggestion for a solution called "Clear" that would supposedly provide law enforcement with access to encrypted data with less security risk.

Ozzie's proposal uses a public key and a private key (housed and protected by a company like Apple) that are used to encrypt and decrypt a PIN generated on the device. No one is meant to be able to decode and use the PIN to unlock the device aside from the vendor, using the aforementioned private key.

So, say the FBI needs the contents of an iPhone. First the Feds have to actually get the device and the proper court authorization to access the information it contains--Ozzie's system does not allow the authorities to remotely snatch information. With the phone in its possession, they could then access, through the lock screen, the encrypted PIN and send it to Apple.

Armed with that information, Apple would send highly trusted employees into the vault where they could use the private key to unlock the PIN. Apple could then send that no-longer-secret PIN back to the government, who can use it to unlock the device.

Ozzie demonstrated his "Clear" solution to representatives from tech companies that included Apple, Google and Facebook, according to WIRED, but unsurprisingly, none of them had "any interest whatsoever" in voluntarily implementing that kind of access into their devices and services.

The coalition Apple is a part of in April published a core principle pledging to ensure device security through strong encryption and calling on governments to avoid taking actions that would require companies to "create any security vulnerabilities in their produces and services."

Strong encryption of devices and services protects the sensitive data of our users - including individuals, corporations, and governments. Strong encryption also promotes free expression and the free flow of information around the world. Requiring technology companies to engineer vulnerabilities into their products and services would undermine the security and privacy of our users, as well as the world's information technology infrastructure. Governments should avoid any action that would require companies to create any security vulnerabilities in their products and services.

The renewed activity from the Reform Government Surveillance group follows reports that have suggested law enforcement officials are quietly revisiting proposals that would require tech companies to add backdoor access into electronic devices for use by law enforcement officials.

FBI and DOJ officials have been meeting with security researchers with the aim of developing approaches that would offer "extraordinary access" to encrypted devices like the iPhone, with DOJ officials reportedly "convinced" there is a way to create a backdoor without weakening a device's defense against hacking.

Apple software engineering chief Craig Federighi recently said that this kind of backdoor access would "inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security."

"Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems," Federighi said.

Apple vehemently opposes backdoor solutions like the one Ozzie proposed because they have the potential to weaken device encryption and provide new ways for bad actors to access device data.

Apple's strong stance against weakened device protections for the sake of law enforcement access was highlighted in the 2016 Apple vs. FBI conflict that saw Apple refuse to create a backdoor access solution to allow the FBI to crack the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

GrayKey iPhone unlocking box via MalwareBytes

Without device backdoors, law enforcement officials have still found ways to crack devices like iPhones through other means. At the current time, for example, agencies like the FBI and DOJ have access to an iPhone unlocking box called GrayKey, which is capable of unlocking Apple's most recent iPhones running modern versions of iOS.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
32 months ago

Explain why not.

Because it compromises the privacy of everyone, not just lawbreakers.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and the government wants to force a weak link onto a chain.
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
32 months ago
Weakening security is dumb.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
32 months ago
I'm glad that Apple is staying strong.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
32 months ago
Stick to your guns Apple keep security tight.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
32 months ago
Microsoft and security recommendations. lul
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
32 months ago
Good for Apple. There is an alarming trend towards sacrificing privacy in the name of “security”. The problem is when organized crime or hackers are able to utilize these back foot methods, and it seems that this is a greater problem.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

New Photos Offer Better Look at iPhone 12 Color Options

Tuesday October 20, 2020 2:34 am PDT by
As we wait for the iPhone 12 review embargo to lift later today, more pictures are circulating of the devices in real-world lighting conditions, providing a better look at the different colors available. Leaker DuanRui has shared images on Twitter of the iPhone 12 in white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The black and white colors are similar to the iPhone 11 colors, but the other...

iPhone 12 Pro in Graphite and iPhone 12 in Blue Shown Off in Unboxing Videos

Monday October 19, 2020 8:20 am PDT by
While the iPhone 12 Pro does not launch until Friday, we now have an early unboxing video of the device courtesy of Twitter account DuanRui, providing a closer look at the shiny new flat-edge design and sleek Graphite color option. Ben Geskin re-uploaded the unboxing video to YouTube, which we've embedded below: Geskin has also uploaded an unboxing video of the iPhone 12 in Blue: ...

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 14.1 With Multiple Bug Fixes Ahead of iPhone 12 Launch

Tuesday October 20, 2020 10:06 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.1, the first major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 14 operating system updates that were released in September. iOS and iPadOS 14.1 come a week after Apple released the golden master versions of the updates to developers. The iOS 14.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access...

Watch: iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Unboxing Videos and First Impressions

Tuesday October 20, 2020 6:05 am PDT by
Apple's embargo has lifted for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviews. In addition to our detailed review roundups for each device, we've rounded up over a dozen unboxing videos and first impressions below. iPhone 12 in Blue on left and iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue on right via Engadget Key new features of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro include a flat-edge design, 5G support, a much faster A14 ...

Gold Version of iPhone 12 Pro Apparently Has a More Fingerprint Resistant Stainless Steel Frame

Tuesday October 20, 2020 11:56 am PDT by
iPhone 12 Pro reviews hit the web today, and one of the more interesting tidbits came from TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino, who revealed that the Gold version of the device apparently has a more fingerprint resistant coating applied to the stainless steel frame. From his review:Most of the iPhone 12 Pro finishes still use a physical vapor deposition process for edge coating. But the new gold...

Photographer Austin Mann Tests the iPhone 12 Pro's Camera

Wednesday October 21, 2020 4:14 am PDT by
Travel photographer Austin Mann usually performs an in-depth review of new iPhone models to test their camera performance in real-world scenarios. To test Apple's new iPhone 12 Pro, Mann traveled to Glacier National Park, Montana. Mann focused on some of the biggest camera upgrades with the iPhone 12 Pro, including the upgraded Wide lens, Ultra Wide Night mode, and LiDAR autofocus, across a...

iPhone 12 Pro Max Has Smaller 3,687 mAh Battery According to Regulatory Filing

Tuesday October 20, 2020 8:48 pm PDT by
Apple's new iPhone 12 Pro Max is equipped with a 3,687 mAh battery, which is around 7% less capacity than the 3,969 mAh battery in the iPhone 11 Pro Max, according to a regulatory filing published by TENAA, the Chinese equivalent of the FCC. The regulatory filing, spotted by MacRumors, also lists the iPhone 12 Pro Max with 6GB of RAM as seen in benchmark results last week. Apple has filed ...

5G Drains iPhone 12 Battery 20% Faster Than 4G in Benchmark

Wednesday October 21, 2020 3:17 am PDT by
After the first reviews for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro emerged yesterday, a new report by Tom's Guide reveals the extent of battery life reductions when using 5G. The report outlines a test wherein the iPhone surfs the web continuously at 150 nits of screen brightness, launching a new site every 30 seconds until the battery drains. Interestingly, the test was run on an iPhone 12 and...

Hands-On With Apple's iPhone 12 and 12 Pro MagSafe Cases

Tuesday October 20, 2020 1:33 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are launching this Friday, and ahead of that release date, Apple is shipping out various accessories like the MagSafe charger and MagSafe cases. Yesterday we took a look at the MagSafe charger, and today our MagSafe case came in the mail, so we thought we'd take another look at the charger to see how it works with the case and just how strong the case magnets are. S ...

Reliable Leaker Suggests AirTags 'Coming Soon' in Two Different Sizes

Tuesday October 20, 2020 1:53 am PDT by
Apple's rumored AirTags Bluetooth tracking devices could launch imminently and will be available in two size options, based on new tweets from cryptic-but-reliable leaker L0vetodream. In typical enigmatic style, the leaker first tweeted this morning that a "big one" and a "small one" are "coming soon," but withheld what they were referring to. However that was followed an hour later with the ...