By Nadia Prupis / Common Dreams

The FBI’s claim that it cannot break into the iPhone of one of the suspected San Bernardino shooters without Apple’s help is “bullshit,” according to National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Speaking during a democracy conference via a live video feed from Moscow on Tuesday, Snowden said, “The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’ to unlock the phone. Respectfully, that’s bullshit.”

On Twitter, he added, “The global technological consensus is against the FBI,” linking to a blog post by ACLU technology fellow Daniel Kahn Gillmor explaining how one of the bureau’s biggest claims in the iPhone case—that Apple must disable the “auto-erase” feature, which wipes data from devices after 10 failed passcode attempts, before agents can try to break into it—is fraudulent.

Gillmor writes:

[T]he truth is that even if this feature is enabled on the device in question, the FBI doesn’t need to worry about it, because they can already bypass it by backing up part of the phone (called the “Effaceable Storage”) before attempting to guess the passcode. [….]

[The FBI is] deliberately misleading the public (and the judiciary) to try to gain these powers. This is not how a trustworthy agency operates. We should not be fooled.

The third annual Blueprint for a Great Democracy conference, organized by the political watchdog group Common Cause, featured Snowden among numerous human rights advocates, journalists, and activists. The conference, in its second day on Wednesday, is being livestreamed here.

Apple senior executives said in February that the FBI had a chance to access the data in Syed Farook’s phone if agents had not instructed San Bernardino officials to reset his iCloud password, which prompted an auto-backup that rendered the information “permanently inaccessible.”

The tech company and the intelligence agency will face off again in California federal court later this month.


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