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Apple’s iPhone 7 latest snazzy salvo in encryption war

Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the new iPhone 7 on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in San Francisco. The new phone will have the company’s highest level of encryption yet.
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the new iPhone 7 on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in San Francisco. The new phone will have the company’s highest level of encryption yet. The Associated Press

It’s sleek, shiny and water resistant. It comes with a telephoto lens for the kind of zooming normally reserved for real cameras. And you’ll be able to play “Super Mario Bros.” on it – one-handed, though not while driving, please.

For every exciting detail that emerged about Apple’s new line of iPhones on Wednesday morning, someone at the FBI probably got an ulcer. Except for that stupid decision to nix the headphone jack, it has never been more tempting to thumb one’s nose at law enforcement by buying a smartphone that’s all but impossible to hack, even with a search warrant.

And that, of course, was Apple’s plan.

Starting next week, millions of people will spring for an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, each loaded with Apple’s latest, super-duper-encrypted operating system, iOS 10. In addition, millions more will upgrade their older iPhones and iPads to iOS 10, too.

For the Silicon Valley tech giant, this will mean big profits. For the FBI, it will mean big headaches. Almost overnight, the data on these devices will be out of reach for law enforcement agencies across the country.

It’s just the latest go-round in the dispute over the rights of individuals to have secure data, and the reach of law enforcement to ferret out criminals. Although, thus far, it has been a war waged by lawyers and software engineers, a real resolution can only come from Congress with laws that strike a middle ground.

Already, it has taken too long. Months have passed since the FBI tried to force Apple to build backdoor into its software to unlock the encrypted iPhone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. When Apple refused, the agency paid hackers to do it. That put Apple in the hot seat. Without a guarantee of privacy, the company knew selling iPhones would be all but impossible and people would never trust its new services, such as iCloud Keychain, which lets users store their passwords and credit card information in their smartphones.

The company has since redoubled its encryption efforts. CEO Tim Cook didn’t devote a whole lot of time to talking about it during the company’s annual event Wednesday. After all, there were new iPhones and Apple Watches to unveil. But his surrogates have been spreading that message for months.

In August, Apple security expert Ivan Krstic offered a primer on the features of iOS 10 at the BlackHat USA hacker conference in Las Vegas. And in June, Craig Federighi, a senior vice president of software engineering, reassured developers that Apple is committed to the highest level of encryption.

“All of this great work in iOS 10 would be meaningless to us if it came at the expense of your privacy,” Federighi said.

So it’s Apple, 1 and FBI, 0. Congress, care to referee?

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