According to a new published report, Apple had been asked by Chinese authorities within the last two years to hand over its source code but refused to do so, the company's top lawyer told U.S. lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday.
Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell made the statement in response to a line of attack from law enforcement officials who have attempted to portray Apple as complicit in handing over information to Chinese authorities for business reasons while refusing to cooperate with U.S. requests for access to private data in criminal investigations.
Apple and the FBI returned to Washington to testify before lawmakers about their heated disagreement over law enforcement access to encrypted devices, highlighted in the case of a locked iPhone linked to a gunman in last December's Islamist militant-inspired shootings in San Bernardino, California.
Earlier in the hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Captain Charles Cohen, commander in the Indiana State Police, repeated the suggestion that Apple has quietly cooperated with Beijing. But when pressed by Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, for the source of that claim, Cohen only cited news reports. Eshoo was visibly frustrated said "That takes my breath away. That is a huge allegation."
The growing use of strong default encryption on mobile devices and communications by criminal suspects is handicapping investigators' ability to pursue them, law enforcement officials told the hearing. Apple and other companies defend the technology as integral to protecting consumers.
Thomas Galati, chief of intelligence at the New York Police Department, said his investigators had been unable to open 67 Apple devices in a six-month period from October 2015 to March 2016. Those phones were implicated in 44 violent crimes 23 felonies, including ten homicides, two rapes, and an episode where an on-duty officer was shot, Galati said.
Sewell, who testified on a separate panel before the same committee Tuesday alongside technology experts, argued that any vulnerability built into its products would harm "one hundred percent" of its users.
"I don't think relying on a third party is a good model," said Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, the committee's top Democrat.
The FBI relies heavily on the "services and specialized skills that we can only get through the private industry, and that partnership is critical to our success," the FBI's Hess testified.This position is supported in the newly drafted 'Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016' which was circulated last week by Senators Feinstein and Burr.
Some of the reports hinting at Apple being complicit were born out of reports that surfaced in 2014 and 2015 by Reuters and others.
In September 2014 we posted a report titled "Apple's iPhone 6 goes on Sale in China October 17 after Assuring China's Ministry that there's no Secret Backdoors." The report noted that "China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said it conducted "rigorous security testing" on the iPhone 6 and held talks with Apple on the issue, and that Apple shared with the ministry materials related to the potential security issues.
Apple had told the MIIT it had adopted new security measures in its latest smartphone operating system, iOS 8, and promised that it had never installed backdoors into its products or services to allow access for any government agency in any country."
In a January 2015 report we noted that China's position had changed regarding security. We reported at the time that "The Chinese government had adopted new regulations requiring companies that sell computer equipment to Chinese banks to turn over secret source code, submit to invasive audits and build so-called back doors into hardware and software, according to a copy of the rules obtained by foreign technology companies that do billions of dollars' worth of business in China." But the Government had reportedly backed off that position temporarily.
Then on December 23, 2015 Reuters reported that China's Foreign Ministry said that technology companies had nothing to fear from China's new anti-terrorism law which aims to prevent and probe terror activities …"The draft anti-terrorism law has caused concern in Western capitals as it could require technology firms to install "back doors" in products or to hand over sensitive information such as encryption keys to the government."
At least publicly, this was the last word on the matter. But today's revelation by General counsel Bruce Sewell contradicts this story line by Reuters earlier report by stating that the Chinese Government did in fact ask for Apple's iOS source code but were denied.
The only ones that could contradict Sewell's statement of course would be the very party that would want to keep such a deal secret: The Chinese Government. And I don't think they'll be testifying before U.S. lawmakers anytime soon.
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