Reuters Asks Even Stupider Questions about Apple-FBI Fight than Pew

In my post on Pew’s polling on whether Apple should have to write a custom version of its operating system so FBI can brute force the third phone, I gave Pew credit for several aspects of its question, but suggested the result might be different if Pew had reminded the people the FBI has already solved the San Bernardino attack.

Imagine if Pew called 1000 people and asked, “would you support requiring Apple to make iPhones less secure so the FBI could get information on a crime the FBI has already solved?”

As I said, at least Pew’s question was fair.

Not so Reuters’ questions on the same topic. After asking a bunch of questions to which three-quarters said they would not be willing to give up their own privacy to ward against terrorism or hacking, Reuters than asked this question:

Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack. Apple is concerned that if it helps the FBI this time, it will be forced to help the government in future cases that may not be linked to national security, opening the door for hackers and potential future

Do you agree or disagree with Apple’s decision to oppose the court order?

While Reuters explains why Apple opposes the order — because it will be [in fact, already has been] asked to help break into more phones that have nothing to do with terrorism, creating vulnerabilities for hackers — the wording of the question could easily be understood to imply that Syed Rezwan Farook’s phone “was used [] in the San Bernardino attack.” It’s not clear Farook even used the phone after November, two days before his attack. And to the extent Farook and his wife used phones during the attack — as implied by the question — they are believed to be the phones they tried unsuccessfully to destroy.

Yet, even with his problematically framed question, 46% of respondents (on an online poll, which likely skews towards tech facility) supported Apple’s actions.

There’s a problem, too, with the only question for which a plurality supported the FBI’s snooping. a graph of which Reuters highlighted in its story.

The government should be able to look at data on Americans’ phones in order to protect against terror threats.

There are cases where investigators find information on a smart phone that helps prevent follow-on attacks (in happened in Paris with a phone that was not encrypted). Border searches(which I admittedly believe to be one of the real reasons FBI objects to default encryption), too, might prevent terror attacks. But more often, we’re talking about investigating crimes deemed to be terrorism after the fact (or, far, far more often, solving drug crimes).

Nothing the FBI could do with the data on Farook’s work phone will prevent the deaths of the 14 people he already killed. There are other kinds of surveillance far better suited to doing that.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    But, has the FBI really already solved the San Bernardino event? It’s hard to tell. A quick turn through the FBI motion reveals inconsistencies on this point. On page 17 they say, “The user of the phone, Farook, is a mass murderer who caused the death of a large number of his workers and the shooting of many others, and who built bombs and hoarded weapons for this purpose”. Then on page 19 they call him “ … an individual suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack that killed 14 Americans and wounded 22 others on our owns soil”. Now, perhaps this paper was rushed and was put together by several different writers, but still, the existence of such inconsistencies could easily cast a cloud on the credibility of the document’s assertions. Not well executed (fortunately).

  2. Denis says:

    “Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack.”
    .
    Marcy slaps Reuter’s a good one for this ambiguous sentence, and fair ‘nuf. Agreed, the Reuter’s statement is ambiguous, but, after all, it’s Reuter’s so let’s not get our expectations up. But what does it actually mean?
    .
    The sentence could be interpreted at least two ways, depending on what the prepositional phrase “in the San Bernardino attack” is understood to modify. Is it an adjectival phrase modifying “shooters,” or an adverbial phrase modifying “used”?
    .
    Sentence re-constructed assuming adjectival:
    Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack is known to have used.
    .
    Here, the prepositional phrase specifies only who used the phone (someone who was a shooter in the SB attack), not when.
    .
    Sentence re-constructed assuming adverbial:
    Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used in the San Bernardino attack by one of the shooters.
    .
    Here, the prepositional phrase specifies both when the phone was used (in the SB attack) and by whom (one of the shooters).
    .
    Given that the phone was found inside a car inside a garage, then the adjectival form is almost certainly the only factually correct one, which is what I understand Marcy to be saying but without all of the annoying pedantry.
    .
    Where I am having trouble with Marcy’s analysis is her point here and in the Slate article that, hey, this crime is solved and so there’s nothing in that phone the FBI could need anyway. So piss off, FBI. (My paraphrasing.)
    .
    But just because the two shooters are dead and their buddy is busted doesn’t mean there aren’t other buddies out there the FBI would like to talk to, and perhaps visit their apartments without a warrant, question them for 8 hours without access to an attorney, and then put a bullet in them, as FBI agents are trained to do.
    .
    But the part about this story that really gets my skin a’crawlin’ is the use of the so-called “all writs act” by a magistrate judge to coerce someone who is not a suspect and not a party and not in any way involved to employ their skills or knowledge against their will for the government’s benefit.
    .
    IOW, they are not threatening Apple because of some alleged crime or dishonesty but because of skills that Apple has that the government wants. I mean, WTF? Next thing you know they’ll be knocking on my door with a writ to force me to employ my grammatical skills to proof Trump’s inauguration speech. I ain’t gonna’ do it.
    .
    Obama and his DoJ have been the creepiest bunch of governmental thugs I can remember going all the way back to Hoover; this is just one more example. Hope! Change! My ass.

    • greengiant says:

      The FBI, ( the DEA, the NSA, FTA, Secret Service … ) wants real time back doors into all digital devices. Nevermind these back doors then can be used by NGO criminal hackers and other governments.

      The icing on the cake is the destruction of the 4th amendment and involuntary servitude to go to lengths post facto to provide this snoop.

      Everything else is theater and smoke.

      So whether you like corporate controlled government with all knowing private intelligence complex arbitrarily winging down the Trans Pacific Trade Pact on your personal wealth and tax dollars can be determined just by what you write about.

  3. jerryy says:

    Dear Reuters and Pew,
    .
    Here are some qustions that are far more direct to the point:
    .
    Q: Would you support government actions to force device manufacturers to put restrictions on their products, restrictions that allow business rivals to keep tabs on your product research and development?
    .
    Yes, No, Unsure
    .
    Q: Would you support government actions to force device manufacturers to put restrictions on their products, restrictions that allow other people to ruin your romantic or family relations?
    .
    Yes, No, Unsure
    .
    Q: Would you support government actions to force device manufacturers to put restrictions on their products, restrictions that allow unscrupulous people to harvest your financial information and then use that information to make purchases such as houses or automobiles for which you would be left responsible for the actual payments?
    .
    Yes, No, Unsure
    .
    Q: Would you support government actions to force device manufacturers to put restrictions on their products, restrictions that allow predators to pose as you whereby they send messages to your family members, especially your children, luring them to meet in out of the way places?
    .
    Yes, No, Unsure

  4. Evangelista says:

    First, the owner of the iphone in question was not Farouk, but San Bernardino County, apparently.

    Second, the owner of the iphone is recognized to have, and have had, right-to-access the iphone and information on the iphone that it owned.

    Third, the owner of the iphone is reported to have legally obtained, and legally have had, a program to access the information on the iphone that it owned, which iphone was in possession of and used by the owner’s employee Farouk, although it had not activated the software it owned on the iphone it owned.

    The situation defined by the points above is equivalent to an iphone owned by a parent and given into the hands of a minor dependent on the owner-parent.

    This raises two questions: One, why is the FBI after Apple to hack an iphone for a person who did not own the iphone? Two, why is the FBI not working through the iphone owner, having the owner apply to Apple?

    This, along with all the other fishy aspects of the business raises some flags. The flags raise the question, What is, or might be, really going on? The milieu in the matter is espionage, surveillance, spying, and expansion thereof. In this milieu what would be desirable, to those wishing to spy, would be for “encryption” to be established in user-land as encryption. That is, for a ‘broken’, or ‘back-doored’ encryption system, an “encryption” system, to be established a solid, undefeated, unbroken, unbreakable encryption algo in the minds of the user-public. A faux-fight lawsuit, very public, with the ‘defiant’ “encrypter” stoutly, and successfully, defending its “encryption” system as a safe and secure Encryption system would be the class, and classic, way to establish the “encryption” system an encryption system, and one with the purveyor behind it, defending.

    All that would be required from there would be means to explain how information encrypted with the ‘unbreakable encryption system’ got into the hands of law-enforcement, when it would be necessary to reveal that it had. There has been recent reportage that technological ‘miracle-workers’ have managed to build hardware capable of ‘intercepting’ internal computer communications, apparently from some kind of leaking of radio-frequency signal between mother-boards and processors, from a next room… Not unlikely, of course, if the computer’s input peripherals are sending wireless signals (e.g., bluetooth), but difficult to get around the laws of physics if no RF devises are in the loop (or if a transmitter has not been built into a device.

    My suspicion is that we are seeing a conspiracy to establish already back-doored Apple encryption an unbreakable and defiantly guarded super-secure ‘protection’, to encourage it to become the encryption-of-choice amongst espionage targets, those the spies want to spy on.

  5. Cadavre says:

    What if the FBI is not looking for information to prevent so called “future terror attacks”? What if, in stead, that is a cover story for the real reason the FBI is so hot to trot for secrets the phone may hold, and the distribution of those secrets?

    What if the real reason the FBI is so desperately interested in the phone is that the phone will reveal information of FBI complicity in the alleged” attack?

    Understand, that any Muslim living in the US under a VISA or H1B, is contacted by the FBI and required to provide services to the FBI, or else, loose thier VISA/H1B status and be deported. We know the FBI ran the 1993 basement bombing of the WTC. We now that all so call terror plots foiled by the FBI were also originated by the FBI. ALL OF THEM.

    Maybe the phone has information that the “patsy” relayed to attorneys or others that included evidence that the FBI had been badgering them to role-play or build a bomb, just like the reevaluations of the 1993 FBI informants recordings leading up to the base bomb event where the FBI was shown to have provided the explosives for the bomb.

    Lamestream was advising viewers that were at the Marathon in Boston to call the FBI if they had pictures. A high school teacher, whose daughter ran in the marathon did just that, and was recorded, when he hared his story with his class, by a student. The FBI went to the teachers house, and deleted images from his camera. The FBI did not make copies if the images, they deleted them. Setting aside “destruction of evidence”, one has to wonder 1)why those agents were not disciplined, and why the images were deleted.

    In both the alleged Paris and San Bernardino attacks, witnesses who actually saw the shooters described them as muscular white guys that behaved like soldiers.

    This is not about preventing future terror attacks. It is about, and only about, a rogue gang of FBI agents being complicit in those alleged attacks.

    Is it too much too ask of the greater majority of patriotic law enforcing agents in the FBI to clean up the bureau and expose what’s really going on?

  6. Cadavre says:

    Te FBI is not interested in preventing terror. Every Terror attack on US soil since the 1993 basement bombing of the WTC was founded, funded, supplied and directed by the FBI, through the use of patsies or informants.

    The informant that worked the 1993 basement bombing, recorded every conversation he had with the FBI. When the bomb making materials were made ready by the FBI, the informant asked if the materials were inert. He assumed the FBI would use fake explosives so as to not harm the workers in the WTC. The informant was very worried when he learned the bomb was real.

    Any foreign Muslim that enters the USA under a student VISA or HIB, is contacted by the FBI and is given two choices, work for us, or loose your immigration status and be deported.

    The FBI is not seeking to crack the phone to prevent terror acts. The FBI wants to crack the phone to determine if there is any evidence of the FBI’s involvement in the production of the alleged terror event, and to determine who that information was passed. iPhones can be used to record. Those recordings can be uploaded or transmitted to other parties.

    IOW, the FBI is not looking for evidence, the FBI is destroying evidence.

    The Marathon event is a case in point. The two patsies were under control of the FBI. Their aunt was vehoment in that assertion when lame stream gave her a chance to speak. Her statements relates to the FBI contacting her to locate the two patsies. Her response was, you [the FBI] know where they are, you’ve been working them for years.

    A high school teacher who took images of the marathon. He was the father of one of the marathoner’s. The media had been pounding the public with,”if you have information or pictures of the marathon bombing,you need to contact the FBI. The teacher did. He talked about what happened next with one of his classes. A student recorded it. He said the FBI came to his house. He expected them to copy the SIM. Instead, the agents deleted some of the images and then left. THE FBI DESTROYED EVIDENCE.

    A friend of the patsies was shot dead by the FBI while handcuffed. One of those a gens died a few weeks later when he fell out of a helicopter during rescue training.

    We need to implore the greater body of those we employ in the FBI, the honest and oath abiding agents, to collect evidence against that small rogue group of agents that will do anything, even if it means murdering innocent Americans, so when the moment comes a thorough house cleaning and prosecution of a small group of rogue FBI agents and FBI management, carrying out these criminal acts can be prosecuted.

    If you red witness accounts, or listen to interviews on RT, those who wsaw the shooters at San Bernardino and Paris, said the shooters were white,(and in the Paris attack, the witness said they were frenchmen, like him), muscular and behaved as if they had advanced combat training.

    The FBI involved in all the terror events since the basement bombing of the WTC, are not looking information to prevent future attacks, they, instead, seek to destroy evidence that implicates them and rogue elements of other agencies in our employ.

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