Apple, tech corporations, support Microsoft fight against gag order on federal snooping

❝ Microsoft has received the backing of Apple and other major technology, media and pharmaceutical companies in its legal fight to dislodge laws preventing it from informing customers of government requests for user data.

Apple was among a host of companies and corporate lobbies to file amici curiae, or friend of the court, briefs siding with Microsoft in its case to end gag orders targeting the release of government requests for data…

❝ In April, Microsoft lodged a lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department, saying a government statute that allows the government to search or seize customer data without their knowledge is unconstitutional. The DOJ filed a motion to dismiss the suit in July…

These secrecy orders, Microsoft argues, violate the Fourth Amendment, which permits citizens and businesses the right to know of government searches or seizures of property. Microsoft is also having its First Amendment rights trampled on by not being afforded the opportunity to inform customers about the investigations…

❝ To increase transparency, Apple issues a biannual Report on Government Information Requests, with the latest release showing U.S. government data demands impacting nearly 5,200 accounts during the six-month period ending in April.

Uncle Sugar can’t continue to have it both ways. Our government blathers constantly about needing access to otherwise private information from individuals, organizations and businesses and, then, claim they need to have the process shrouded in secrecy for a number of crap reasons. Which usually ends up being “we need it – and that’s that!”

Feds claim Microsoft can’t shield user data from government

The U.S. says there’s no legal basis for the government to be required to tell Microsoft customers when it intercepts their e-mail.

The software giant’s lawsuit alleging that customers have a constitutional right to know if the government has searched or seized their property should be thrown out, the government said in a court filing. The U.S. said federal law allows it to obtain electronic communications without a warrant or without disclosure of a specific warrant if it would endanger an individual or an investigation.

Microsoft sued the Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta Lynch in April, escalating a feud with the U.S. over customer privacy and its ability to disclose what it’s asked to turn over to investigators…

The Justice Department’s reply Friday underscores the government’s willingness to fight back against tech companies it sees obstructing national security and [often bullshit] law enforcement investigations. Tensions remain high following a series of court confrontations between the FBI and Apple over whether the company could be compelled to help unlock iPhones in criminal probes…

The industry’s push against government intrusion into their customers’ private information began at least two years ago, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures about covert data collection that put them all on the defensive.

Microsoft and Apple argue the very future of mobile and cloud computing is at stake if customers can’t trust that their data will remain private, while investigators seek digital tools to help them fight increasingly sophisticated criminals and terrorists savvy at using technology to communicate and hide their tracks…

The government said Microsoft doesn’t have the authority to sue over whether its users’ constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure are being violated…

Secrecy orders on government warrants for access to private e-mail accounts generally prohibit Microsoft from telling customers about the requests for lengthy or even unlimited periods, the company said when it sued. At the time, federal courts had issued almost 2,600 secrecy orders to Microsoft alone, and more than two-thirds had no fixed end date, cases the company can never tell customers about, even after an investigation is completed.

Our government does not recognize any individual right to privacy. Our government does not recognize any individual right to knowledge of the government investigating folks. Yeah, we can all come up with some unique circumstance when that might seem reasonable. Our government presumes a blanket privilege while denying any such right to ordinary citizens.

Not so incidentally, this isn’t especially a conservative vs liberal thing. There are a few of each in Establishment politics who will back up Americans’ right to privacy, right to know. Damned few.

The rest are silent.

Apple is producing so much clean solar energy, it formed a new company to sell the excess


Click to enlargeKatie Fehrenbacher
Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina

Apple has created a subsidiary to sell the excess electricity generated by its hundreds of megawatts of solar projects. The company, called Apple Energy LLC, filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sell power on wholesale markets across the US.

The company has announced plans for 521 megawatts of solar projects globally. It’s using that clean energy to power all of its data centers, as well as most of its Apple Stores and corporate offices. In addition, it has other investments in hydroelectric, biogas, and geothermal power, and looks to purchase green energy off the grid when it can’t generate its own power. In all, Apple says it generates enough electricity to cover 93 percent of its energy usage worldwide.

But it’s possible that Apple is building power generation capacity that exceeds its needs in anticipation of future growth. In the meantime, selling off the excess helps recoup costs by selling to power companies at wholesale rates, which then gets sold onward to end customers.

Just in case you wondered why politicians deep into the pockets of fossil fuel thugs like the Koch Bros. also hate Apple with a passion. Like many high tech companies, Apple adopts modern solutions to basic business questions. Of course.

Obama and Congress back off on mandatory encryption bill


Burr and Feinstein continue to turn their backs on liberty and privacy

Draft legislation that could’ve forced U.S. corporations like Apple to decrypt data on-demand following a court order won’t be formally introduced this year, and has lost the support needed to advance anyway…

The bill — backed by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein — didn’t have the support of the Obama administation, the sources told Reuters. Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden in fact claimed that the White House has “dropped anchor and taken down the sail.”

Well, NO LONGER had the support of Obama.

Although Burr and Feinstein are the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee, respectively, Committee members from both political aisles have reportedly backed away from the legislation, particularly Democrats. No one in the House ever offered support…

The Burr-Feinstein bill emerged in the wake of Apple’s fight with the Department of Justice and the FBI over unlocking the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Although the DoJ ultimately withdrew a court order asking Apple to build a workaround for iOS’ passcode retry limits, encryption issues had gained more prominence, and indeed many in U.S. law enforcement — such as FBI director James Comey — are still asking for backdoors, worried that encryption is putting some communications beyond their reach.

Most folks are aware of how and why such legislation illustrates the corruption of both political parties. Add in the sheer stupidity of introducing bills which can only affect communications inside the US – sort of – and the whole world gets an object lesson in how much of American politics is play-acting. Little morality plays designed to keep Talking Heads employed and useless politicians in office.

FBI attack on Apple will accelerate development of government-proof devices


Reuters/Carlo Allegri

The legal showdown between Apple and U.S. law enforcement over encryption, no matter the outcome, will likely accelerate tech company efforts to engineer safeguards against government intrusion, tech industry executives say.

Already, an emerging industry is marketing super-secure phones and mobile applications…

If Apple loses the court case, the legal precedent could give the U.S. government broad authority to order companies to assist in breaking into encrypted products.

But even a government victory could have unintended consequences for law enforcement, potentially prompting a wave of investment by U.S. tech companies in security systems that even their own engineers can’t access, said Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of…Berkman Center for Internet & Society…

The fast-growing online storage provider Box has already made it a priority to give customers sole custody of data, said Joel De la Garza, chief information security officer at the company. The intent is to make it impossible for the company to access its customers’ data – even under a government order, he said.

Our goal is to achieve a `zero-knowledge’ state for the company, he said, “where our customers have total control over their data…”

In the more than two years since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed widespread spying via U.S. companies, a handful of companies have released secure phones…that trumpet security as a prime selling point…

Those businesses could surge if the Apple fight drags on…The fight between Apple and the government could give such security efforts a new urgency.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

Secret memo reveals Uncle Sugar’s strategy to hack cellphones

Silicon Valley celebrated last fall when the White House revealed it would not seek legislation forcing technology makers to install “backdoors” in their software — secret listening posts where investigators could pierce the veil of secrecy on users’ encrypted data, from text messages to video chats. But while the companies may have thought that was the final word, in fact the government was working on a Plan B.

In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies…

The approach was formalized in a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” tasking government agencies with developing encryption workarounds, estimating additional budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark” problem: investigators being unable to access the contents of encrypted data stored on mobile devices or traveling across the Internet. Details of the memo reveal that, in private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.

The public got its first glimpse of what those efforts may look like when a federal judge ordered Apple to create a special tool for the FBI to bypass security protections on an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has vowed to fight the order, calling it a “chilling” demand that Apple “hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.” The order was not a direct outcome of the memo but is in line with the broader government strategy…

Security specialists say the case carries enormous consequences, for privacy and the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, and that the National Security Council directive, which has not been previously reported, shows that technology companies underestimated the resolve of the U.S. government to access encrypted data…

Silicon Valley and Washington have had a decades-long distrust of each other over encryption, stemming from a failed Clinton administration push in the 1990s for a government backdoor in telecommunications networks. In that case, the National Security Agency developed a technology called the Clipper Chip, which the White House approved as a government standard. Security experts assailed it as insecure and a violation of privacy.

Security experts say the U.S.’s insistence on finding ways to tap into encrypted data comes in direct conflict with consumers’ growing demands for privacy.

“The government’s going to have to get over it,” said Ken Silva, former technical director of the National Security Agency and currently a vice president at Ionic Security Inc., an Atlanta-based data security company. “We had this fight 20 years ago. While I respect the job they have to do and I know how hard the job is, the privacy of that information is very important to people…”

The truly stupid part of this government pressure is that it is exactly counter to public policy towards other nations. The White House and Congress blather all the time about any other nation that threatens to require the same access to tech products our federal snoops say they need.

You can’t have it both ways.

Admittedly the hubris of our government spies is nothing new. And given the paranoid spy mentality, when some other nation breaks into the same backdoors Uncle Sugar demands – if our federal alphabet snoops succeed – they’ll simply swear it must have been foreign spies who stole our wondrous technology. No one in government is going to take responsibility for building in the flaw that breaks privacy.

Apple’s message to you and me

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us…

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal…

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession…

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control…

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority…

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook

RTFA for a wee bit more detail. Well meaning folks who accept the FBI premise that somehow Apple already has a secret way to shutdown the “10-trial-and-wipe” feature enabled on a terrorist’s iPhone is a conclusion easy for an American to reach. A well-meaning and ignorant American. One of the best ways to design a warranty is to guarantee a product will self-destruct if tampered with. Turn it into a brick.

There is no need for a backdoor to get in and fiddle with the code. Make the attempt to do so cause an irretrievable act of destruction and you’ve fulfilled the guaranty of privacy. It was a revelation the first time I encountered that concept – over 60 years ago. I imagine it wasn’t new, then.

Equally important to my personal view is that this case is an excellent illustration of how little difference there is between the two old parties. When push comes to shove, both will come down on the side of political rule over individual liberty, personal privacy. The head of the FBI was appointed by a liberal Democrat, Barack Obama. The judge in the case, a Democrat, was appointed by a liberal Democrat, Barack Obama.

War or peace, individual liberty versus conformity defined from the top down, I have seen no reason to cast my lot with either of the two mediocrities we get to choose from to staff and guide our government. Unlike libertarians I absolutely endorse the premise of republican government – and democratic guidance by the people. That simply works better over time than the alternatives. The deliberate imposition of narrow, foot-dragging ideology by the liberal and conservative wings of class-based politicians is something I’ve had to confront since the first time I sat down at a drugstore counter with a Black friend of mine and ordered soft drinks for both of us…thereby breaking a law as “sacred” to the cops of America at the time as the crap abuse of a law from 1789 now is to the FBI and the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

#standwithapple