Has Apple won the battle but lost control?

The FBI has accessed an iPhone without the help of the tech giants, but what are the longterm implications of this?

Tim Cook, Apple, San bernardino

Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP/Press Association Images

The FBI confirmed late last night that it had managed to access the iPhone 5C owned by one of the San Bernardino gunmen, without the help of Apple. This case divided public opinion; if Apple didn't help the FBI were they protecting terrorists or our privacy?  

CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, spoke about the issue on numerous occasions explaining the company's position and reiterating that the privacy of their customers was one of their key concerns. Many feared that the creation of the back-door required by the FBI would lead to all kinds of cyber-terrorism in the future. Apple's credibility would have undoubtedly been under question had they worked with the US Department of Justice. The FBI would have been perceived to be snooping-giants with the ability to pry into people's private information at the drop of the hat.

Surely both sides should be happy this morning; Apple remained loyal to their customers by not working with the FBI and the FBI accessed the device without a lengthy court case. 

As the news of the FBI's success spread, however, another worry started to arise; has Apple lost control? 

The company, who celebrates its 40th birthday on Friday, held many of the cards going into this battle. They stated bluntly that there was no way to decrypt the iPhone without their cooperation, such is the level of encryption on the device. 

This is clearly not the case.

No information about the method used by the FBI to gain access to the device has been made public and one should hope that remains to be the case. It's worth watching to see if the FBI engage with Apple, however, to inform them of the method used so they can fix the flaw. While this would put the FBI on the back-foot should this type of issue arise again, it could be argued that it is the best thing for customers and consumer privacy in general. 

If the FBI don't share the method with Apple, the reputation of the tech giant could come under fire. 

Contribution 

Apple say they contributed to the FBI's case from the outset, handing over any information they had about the iPhone in question but said that it could not and would not decrypt the device as this goes above and beyond a privacy boundary they were unwilling to breach. Tim Cook described the software needed to decrypt an iPhone as a cancer which would spread and have a detrimental impact further down the line. 

While it may appear that this case was a win for both sides it's hard not to wonder what happens next. We can be sure that the next level of device encryption and security is already being worked on, but if it's being built upon a foundation that can be hacked, can we trust technology manufacturers to keep our information safe?