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ExtraBITS for 28 March 2016

In ExtraBITS this week, we focus on Apple’s battle with the FBI. The breaking news is that the case seems to be over, with the Department of Justice withdrawing. Before that, the judge in the case said that the court order demanding Apple provide a backdoor to the iPhone was likely unenforceable, which might have caused the government to pull out rather than face losing in court. Finally, science fiction author Charles Stross ponders whether the Apple/FBI fight over privacy is an indication that Apple is looking to open its own bank.

Justice Department Withdrawing from Apple Case -- The New York Times is reporting that the outside party engaged to unlock the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone has been successful, and the Department of Justice is withdrawing from its legal action against Apple. It’s unclear what, if any, useful data was found, or if the FBI will publicize the contents of the iPhone or share with Apple how the information was accessed. We wonder how much money the misguided case cost Apple, but there’s no question that the company’s principled defense also generated some significant loyalty.

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Apple Versus the FBI: Is It All About Money? -- Science fiction writer Charles Stross, whose novels often turn on issues of economics and trade, looks at Apple’s current legal conflict with the FBI through an economic lens. He notes that Apple’s enormous pile of cash puts it into a position similar to that experienced by General Motors last century, when its enormous pension fund led the auto maker to become “an insurance company with a car-manufacturing subsidiary.” Stross suggests that Apple’s push for greater customer security is tied to Apple Pay and the company’s possible long-term strategy to use its cash hoard to create “a retail banking subsidiary to provide financial services directly.” Whether or not you can take that speculation to the bank, it is worth investing some time in reading Stross’s analysis.

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iPhone Backdoor Court Order Likely Unenforceable, Says Judge -- When the Department of Justice suddenly backed out of its court hearing with Apple, it claimed that the FBI had found another way to unlock the iPhone connected with the San Bernardino terrorist attack. But Adam Engst may have been right when he said, “…it might be an indication that the FBI feels that its chances of compelling Apple to create the equivalent of a backdoor are dropping, and is looking for a face-saving way out.” Sarah Jeong, writing for Motherboard, reveals that the judge repeatedly told the attorneys in a pre-hearing conference that the original court order demanding an iPhone backdoor was “unenforceable,” and always had been. We aren’t calling the case over just yet, but signs are good that Apple will prevail in the end.

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