One year ago, 14 people were killed and 22 injured by a husband-and-wife pair of domestic terrorists who attacked a training session of government employees in San Bernardino, Calif. Although the perpetrators were killed in a gun battle with law enforcement within hours of the attack, the FBI’s interest in one terrorist’s iPhone precipitated a public standoff with Apple that captured its own share of national headlines.
The FBI argued that Apple must cooperate in circumventing security features built into Syed Rizwan Farook’s employer-issued iPhone 5C, while Apple said that this would unreasonably compromise the security of its devices and place other users at risk. Hours before a scheduled hearing on whether Apple could be compelled to write code that compromises its own smartphones, the FBI backed off, saying that it had enlisted outside experts to get into Farook’s phone, though it provided few details.
There has been one well-publicized attempt to tilt the law in the direction favored by the FBI, post-San Bernardino – the bill introduced by senators Diane Feinstein and Richard Burr shortly after the end of the FBI’s standoff with Apple. Burr-Feinstein would have, in effect, required tech companies to insert exploitable back doors into all of their products, just in case the government wanted a look at some of the data within.
Yet Burr-Feinstein, despite a favorable climate in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks, went nowhere. Nor have there been any more serious attempts to undermine commercial encryption in the U.S., and experts say that the law around smartphones and privacy hasn’t materially changed since last year.
If anything, according Holmes Wilson, who co-founded the digital privacy rights group Fight for the Future, the privacy climate is actually getting better, thanks in large part to advancing technology.
“Encryption has become the default on many Android phones since San Bernardino,” he told Network World. “Generally phone privacy is improving, not degrading.