Misinformation regarding the battle between Apple and the FBI has made understanding the actual issues difficult to discover. In the interest of clarity, here are the actual facts and why it matters.
This case pertains to one model of iPhone, the iPhone 5c because that is the model used by Syed Rizwan Farouk, who was the male shooter in the San Bernadino shooting. However, the phone Farouk used was owned by the Department of Public Health as his employer. It has been password locked and the FBI cannot risk multiple guesses to get into the phone because Apple has made the phone such that the password would be deleted after a certain number of attempts.
The FBI asked for Apple’s assistance, as they had successfully before, but this is different in that they are not asking for one phone to be unlocked, but a method of doing the same for all of them, which could also be used against new phones. This would involve writing a flawed operating system to install in RAM which would eliminate most security features.
Apple could, going forward, release phones that not even they could break into, but that means they cannot assist customers that need them to do it. This could also be seen be legislators in Congress as obstructive behavior in a case, or because of one, that has been labeled an act of terrorism. The result could be a definitive end to the debate about cellphone encryption by way of a law preventing cell phone companies from locking out the authorities.
The FBI has since broken into the iPhone 5c by purchasing a hacking tool, which cost $1 million dollars. Interestingly, they have decided to not disclose what flaw in security the tool exploits, leaving Apple, and iPhone owners, to wonder about where the security is weak. Going forward, the public should watch to see what innovative security Apple produces in response, a development already hinted to be in the works.
This complicated matter involved some hot button issues, in particular, terrorism and privacy, which tend to elicit passionate discourse, but not necessarily correct discourse. Hopefully, this clarified the issues involved.