NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says the FBI is full of, well, something, in its iPhone case.
Speaking on a video link from Moscow on Tuesday, Snowden used colorful language to explain why the FBI’s claim that it needs Apple’s help in unlocking the iPhone owned by Syed Farook isn’t true.
“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’ of getting into this phone,” Snowden said at the Common Cause Blueprint for Democracy conference. “Respectfully, that’s bullsh**.”
The Intercept earlier reported on Snowden’s comments.
Snowden wasn’t given a chance to explain his response: His comments came at the end of the session and the moderator ended the discussion soon after. However, in a tweet on Tuesday, he linked to an American Civil Liberties Union posting from Monday, saying that one claim made by the FBI in its case against Apple—namely its concern with the iPhone auto-erasing itself if it can’t break into the device—was “fraudulent.”
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“The FBI wants us to think that this case is about a single phone, used by a terrorist,” ACLU technology fellow Daniel Kahn Gilmor wrote in the Snowden-linked article. “But it’s a power grab: law enforcement has dozens of other cases where they would love to be able to compel software and hardware providers to build, provide, and vouch for deliberately weakened code. The FBI wants to weaken the ecosystem we all depend on for maintenance of our all-too-vulnerable devices.”
Snowden made a name for himself as the whistleblower who revealed several secretive spying programs at the NSA. He has since fled to Russia, where he’s safeguarded from U.S. law enforcement. The U.S. has revoked his passport and wants him to return to the U.S. to be charged. Snowden, meanwhile, is hoping for permanent asylum, so he can’t be charged in U.S. courts.
He’s also a divisive figure. Some have seen Snowden as a brave, courageous person, fighting for freedom and individual liberty. Critics, however, say his acts are treasonous and could put the entire world at risk. Regardless, he has used his time in Russia to comment on several privacy-related matters, including his most recent comments on the Apple-FBI case.
Whether his comments—and those of the ACLU’s Gilmor—are true is unknown. Apple (AAPL) has contended that obeying a court order to provide software that would allow the FBI to access San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook’s iPhone would create a “dangerous precedent” that could see the government seek other opportunities to break into devices. The company has denied the request and says it’s willing to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to support its cause.
Several prominent organizations and technology titans have gotten behind Apple, including the ACLU and billionaire Mark Cuban. Even Apple’s rival Microsoft (MSFT) has voiced support for its stance.
Meanwhile, the FBI and its director James Comey say that they’re simply trying to bring justice to the San Bernardino victims. Despite Snowden’s suggestion that the FBI could find a way to access the iPhone’s data, the FBI has said that it cannot. Given his work with the NSA and seeming understanding of security and hacking, however, Snowden’s comments have been given some weight on the Internet.
Still, the answers aren’t clear and at this point, all we know is that the FBI and Apple will continue to battle until one of them wins or waves the white flag. And so far, neither side is showing signs of surrender.
To hear everything Snowden had to say at Tuesday’s event, check out the following video:
Neither Apple nor the FBI immediately responded to a request for comment.