Apple participated in search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
As part of testimony related to the ongoing San Bernardino iPhone encryption debate, Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell on Tuesday told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the company offered technical assistance to investigators searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 after the plane was declared missing in 2014.
Sewell offered the comments as background to a question posed by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) concerning Apple's response procedures in the event of a perceived emergency. average response time to
"In the instance that there's a terrorist that has put the location of a nuclear bomb on the phone, and he dies, how long would take Apple to develop the technology to tell us where that nuclear bomb was, or would Apple not be able to develop that technology to tell us in a short period time," Richmond asked.
As per protocol, Apple would first conduct a top-down audit of all data surrounding a particular phone, which in this hypothetical situation is a device loaded with highly sensitive information vital to national security. While not specifically mentioned, Sewell is likely referring to iPhone backups and other relevant data stored in the cloud, information the company has ready access to as is willing to hand over to government official if served a proper warrant.
Sewell notes the past 25 years have brought great change to the digital security landscape, especially with respect to what data law enforcement agencies can access. However, Apple does have procedures in place to handle emergency situations.
"When the Malaysia Airline[s] went down — within one hour of that plane being declared missing — we had Apple operators cooperating with telephone providers all over the world, with the airlines and with the FBI to try to find a ping, to try to find some way we could locate where that plane was," Sewell said.
These emergency protocols could also be activated in a missing persons case. Earlier in the hearing Richmond referenced the murder of Brittney Mills, a Baton Rouge resident shot in her apartment last year seemingly by someone she knew. Investigators attempted to mine Mills' iPhone 5 for evidence but were thwarted by an iOS 8 passcode and full disk encryption. Apple is embroiled in a controversial debate over a similar matter linked to an iPhone used by San Bernardino terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook.