Why does the FBI want to take a look inside your iPhone?

Cynthia McKinney
After serving in the Georgia Legislature, in 1992, Cynthia McKinney won a seat in the US House of Representatives. She was the first African-American woman from Georgia in the US Congress. In 2005, McKinney was a vocal critic of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and was the first member of Congress to file articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. In 2008, Cynthia McKinney won the Green Party nomination for the US presidency.
© Lucy Nicholson
The FBI wants the encryption keys to the iPhone, yet has a poor track record since September 11, 2001 of protecting Constitutional rights

After an inexplicable and terrible crime was committed in December, leaving 14 dead and 22 injured in California, the public was informed that an act of terror had been committed. We were told that the culprits were a San Bernardino County Health Department employee and his wife who were killed after they fled the scene. 

“Going postal” at places of work or even inside US high schools and colleges is a rare, but not unknown event. In an interesting twist, the FBI now claims that in order to build its case against the dead couple, it needs to drive a 16-wheel “Mack” truck through the Constitution and has asked Apple to unlock the husband’s iPhone and provide Apple’s encryption key for that phone. The request is precedent-setting and has sparked controversy in the US. The implications are global for anyone who has an encrypted iPhone and for phone companies now considering providing encryption as a privacy guarantee and selling point for their customers.

Going Postal

"Going postal” is a term that refers to an employee who becomes so angry (usually because of stressful workplace conditions) that he becomes violent and shows up at the office with gun in hand bent on killing a specific person or just anyone. This happened first and most frequently at US post offices, hence the name. Mark Ames, author of “Going Postal,” found that the phenomenon occurred because of workplace abuse that the worker could no longer endure. 

Violence at US schools dates back to the 1800s and is not a rare occurrence. A Wikipedia compilation shows hundreds of instances of killings at school between students or students and administrators. Wikipedia lists over 100 school shootings just since 2010, alone! Columbine just happens to be the one that we all remember. Unfortunately, workplace or school violence is nothing new in the United States. A disgruntled stock day trader in my hometown of Atlanta went berserk at two brokerage houses, killing 12 and injuring a dozen people; after leaving a note of explanation, he committed suicide. Eric Rudolph, called a terrorist by then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez for his anti-abortion bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, killing one and injuring 111, sits in prison today after an extensive manhunt in which he was captured alive.

The same can be said for Dylann Roof, who killed nine Black worshipers in a South Carolina church in a bid to begin a race war. Roof, who left a paper trail of screeds, faced an assortment of charges from state and federal authorities, but not terrorism.  During his arrest, police took him to Burger King to get a hamburger because he was hungry. 

Was there ever any serious consideration of the possibility that this was an act of going postal? 

Police and Sheriff's Office Crime Scene investigators examine evidence at the scene of the investigation around an SUV where two suspects were shot by police following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California December 3, 2015. © Mike Blake

The FBI, Terror Plots, and San Bernardino

The Justice Department announced that San Bernardino killings would be investigated as terrorism.  This is no surprise because any crime committed in the US by Muslims, or by Muslims who had no intention of committing a crime until being paid (or otherwise enticed) to do by the FBI, itself, will be labeled terrorism.  That is the sad state of affairs in the US today. The Heritage Foundation claims that the FBI has used laws that decimate the Constitution to thwart 39 terror plots since September 11, 2001. But, after taking a closer look in their report entitled, "Inventing Terrorists,” Project Salam found that most of the preemptive prosecutions of “plots” were actually instigated, or even paid for, by the FBI.  This has led many in the US to become deeply suspicious of FBI tactics in the domestic war against “homegrown” terrorists - as former Congresswoman Jane Harman’s breathtaking, far-reaching, Constitution-crushing bill came under discussion.

Even before 9/11, criminal behavior inside the FBI forensics lab had become public.  Tainting Evidence, by John Kelly and Philip Wearne describes in excruciating detail how the FBI intentionally tainted the evidence in order to “get its man.”  It chronicles FBI malpractice, use of flawed science, doctored lab reports, and false testimony.  Since 1998 when the book was published, the FBI has endured subsequent scandals, finally admitting flaws in its hair analysis procedures, going back decades. Some of the FBI’s victims were put to death or died in prison—on flawed evidence. Dr. Fred Whitehurst, FBI whistleblower in the 1990s, claims that the FBI was still doing the same thing in 2015.

It is this FBI that wants to investigate the contents of the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, alleged perpetrator of the San Bernardino killings.  The request from the FBI to Apple is precedent setting for Apple to unlock encryption keys in the phone.  Both Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were killed by police in their SUV after leaving the crime scene.

Justice and The Constitution

There are many unanswered questions coming from the victims’ families, the accused’s families, the lawyers, and the political left and the political right.  Justice requires that all questions be answered transparently.  But, the accused are not here for that.  Justice also requires that the Constitution be followed.  Or else, this entire exercise becomes something else. Investigative blogger James Corbett reminds his readers that the FBI can use advanced technology to frame the innocent, something it has already done in the past. Carol Shenkman points out that “encryption saves lives.”  She raises three categories of persons where this is true:  journalists, victims of domestic violence, and human rights defenders and their lawyers.  The World Socialist Web Site reminds its readers that this is not just the case of one sole iPhone, but is a case that concerns many governments and millions of smartphones around the world. Rebecca Mercuri, PhD, an expert witness in forensic computing matters, writes at OpEd News that none of this makes sense to her because the FBI already has the capability to get what it needs from that particular phone and asks her readers to consider an unstated motive from the government.  Maybe information from the phone is not really the government’s issue. If Mercuri is right, could this merely be the FBI once again blowing a hole through what’s left of the Constitution, as it rushes to get as much as it can, set as many precedents as possible while it can, before the people wise up and start a fight to restore our Constitution?  Surely, the professionals at the FBI can build a case against a dead man and woman without killing the Constitution, too.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.