Decoding the Apple v. U.S. battle Public Policy professor John Villasenor breaks down the background, key points and possible consequences of the iPhone legal dispute

By George Foulsham

During his discussion of the much-publicized iPhone standoff between Apple and the U.S. government, UCLA Luskin Public Policy professor John Villasenor said his main goal was to present the facts of the controversial case, and not to focus on his personal opinion. But, at the end of the discussion, after walking the audience through the background, technology and possible consequences of the legal battle, he did disclose what he thinks the outcome might be.

“I can’t imagine that the government is going to force a team of Apple engineers to drop everything and create a bunch of new code,” Villasenor, a professor of public policy, electrical engineering and management, said. “I have a hard time seeing it’s going to go that way.

“I might be wrong,” he added. “At the end of the day, if Apple refuses, there may be sanctions. They could fine Apple. They could hold them in contempt of court. You could jail the responsible person. It’s just hard to see that would happen to Apple.”

Villasenor’s talk, held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, attracted students and scholars who, like the rest of the country, are fascinated by the many twists and turns the case has taken.

“This is a perfect example of why so much of what we do at UCLA crosses these boundaries — technology, policy, law and business — and how it intersects in this way that quite literally is dominating the headlines,” Villasenor said.

The latest development occurred Thursday when Apple filed court papers claiming that a federal judge had overstepped her authority and violated the company’s rights by ordering the company to help unlock a terrorist’s phone. “The ground is moving underneath us as we sit here,” Villasenor said of the rapidly unfolding legal war.

On Feb. 16, a federal magistrate issued an order compelling Apple to assist the government in bypassing the security features of an iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters in the December 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack. Apple opposes the order, arguing that the government’s demand to “build a backdoor into our products … would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

Villasenor, who’s also a visiting professor of law at UCLA, covered the key points in the dispute, including an overview of the government invoking the All Writs Act of 1789 as a justification for compelling Apple to provide access to the phone. “What other document happened in 1789 that we like?” he asked. “Anything else come to mind? Like the Bill of Rights?”

Speaking of the government’s use of the All Writs Act, Villasenor said that “as far as I know, this is the first time the government has ever ordered someone to write code.”

He explained that one of the ways to access the information in the phone is through the use of a “brute force attack” — entering passcodes until you get the right one. “The problem is that iPhones have security features designed to thwart those attacks,” he said. So if someone tries to enter passcodes 10 times, and they’re unsuccessful, the phone can erase a file system key, making it impossible to decrypt data on the phone.

However, if the government had access to a phone containing the software it is trying to compel Apple to create, a brute force attack might not take long to unlock all of the data.

“If you have a four-digit passcode, it will only take you about 15 minutes to go through all of those combinations, actually probably less,” Villasenor said.  “After 7 or 8 minutes, you could probably get in. A six-digit passcode could be found in about a day.”

But since iPhones running recent versions of iOS also allow longer passcodes, including alpha-numeric combinations, the challenge could be daunting. “The numbers quickly explode,” he said. For a six-digit alpha-numeric code, Villasenor said it would take “five and a half years to calculate all combinations …  according to Apple.”

The next steps in the dispute include additional court filings, a March 22 hearing in a Los Angeles federal courtroom, followed by a decision by a magistrate, inevitable appeals in district and circuit courts, and maybe an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Among the consequences of the case, according to Villasenor, are what other, potentially oppressive governments might do if Apple were to lose the case and be forced to provide what the U.S. wants, and the inevitability that we all will wind up with more secure phones in the future.

“This is a compelling test case,” Villasenor said. “This case is going to be incredibly important.”

Public Policy Alumna Gives Testimony on US Trade Partnership Importance Celeste Drake presents testimony on US trade possibilities


By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin student writer 

Public policy alumna Celeste Drake presented testimony about U.S. trade possibilities in the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Hearing last Wednesday.

Her testimony addressed how trade through the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be used to ensure sustainable economic growth in the US, particularly by increasing wages and improving working conditions. Drake said that trade deals after NAFTA have created stagnant wages and increasing inequality, and suggested ways the Trans-Pacific Partnership can help revert those effects.  

“The most important thing the TPP can do to create jobs and raise wages is to address currency manipulation,” she said. “ If the TPP leaves countries free to use currency to create trade advantages,  the mammoth, job killing 500 billion dollar US trade deficit is only likely to grow.”

In her concluding statements, Drake asked for the US government to increase leverage over the TPP by rejecting a fast track model and properly enforcing it. 

“The TPP rules must require compliance on day one or it sends the message that the commitments aren’t serious. If the TPP rules  are entirely  discretionary allow for delays or no action at all they will not help workers gain the voice they need to raise wages and make their jobs safer,” she said.

John Villasenor on digital media sales, hardware hacking and banking for the poor Research on digital security and risk assessment


By Angel Ibanez
UCLA Luskin Student Writer

Public Policy and Electrical Engineering professor, John Villasenor, was recently featured in the media on the topics of selling used digital media and the growing danger of hacked hardware. He also co-wrote a blog post for the Brookings Institute on the role of the global financial system in helping the poorest and most vulnerable.

In the article titled, “Secondhand Downloads: Will Used E-Books and Digital Games Be for Sale?” published by Bloomberg News, reporter Joshua Brustein explained that the mechanics of selling used digital media are not clearly set and possibly not legal. Professor Villasenor offered one potential solution to addressing some of the issues in music: to establish a “short-term online lending library” for songs. 

Through this short-term lending library, the owner of the song would “lose access whenever someone else listened to the song he contributed.” When capitalizing on the song, the recording artist would only be able to “sell the number of copies of a song equal to the maximum number of people listening to it at any one time.”

Popular Science’s “Nowhere to Hide” piece discusses the growing problems that hacked hardware could cause for security in the future. The article references Villasenor’s research in which he stresses the realization that possible attacks are only a matter of time “the laws of statistics guarantee that there are people with the skills, access, and motivation to intentionally compromise a chip design.” This becomes an ever bigger problem when so little is being done to prepare for such a scenario, “defensive strategies have not yet been fully developed, much less put into practice.”

In a blog post co-written for the Brookings Institute last week, Villasenor and Peer Stein discussed how the current rise of “retrenchment by global financial institutions may be undermining years of progress in providing the world’s poor with financial services.”

The problem of retrenchment comes from large fines against banks for failing to comply with international sanctions and anti-money laundering rules. Banks are doing what is known as “de-risking” where they restrict or terminate business with clients to avoid risk. 

This has led to a rise in banks closing remittance accounts and has affected civil society organizations. One NGO involved in helping women’s groups in the Middle East was denied a bank account to avoid the risk of funds indirectly ending up in Syria. 

In order to address this important problem, Villasenor suggested three pillars necessary for finding solutions going forward:

1. Public authorities need to provide more meaningful information on ML/TF risks to the financial industry, clarify their regulatory expectations, and adopt a genuinely risk-based approach in their supervisory and enforcement actions.

2. Financial institutions need to step up their understanding of the risks of their customer base, and direct internal control efforts accordingly. Risk management approaches should focus more on individual clients, and not write off entire sectors.

3. Countries with significant inflows of remittances need to improve the effectiveness of their regulatory regimes to combat ML/TF, and to provide more comfort to global financial institutions with banking relationships with clients in the developing world.

MPP Alumna Nurit Katz to Play Key Role at UCLA Facilities Management


By Angel Ibanez
UCLA Luskin student writer 

Nurit Katz MPP ’08, UCLA’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, has been selected as the new Facilities Management Executive Officer. Katz’s appointment is effective February 1, 2015. 

As Executive Officer, Katz will work on the strategic aspects of Facilities Management ranging from marketing and campus awareness to benchmarking the key metrics of business and managing the vehicle fleet. She will also maintain her title as Chief Sustainability Officer and continue to oversee that program.

Katz earned a MPP from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an MBA from the Anderson School of Management. As Chief Sustainability Officer, Katz helped advance UCLA’s sustainability goals and initiatives.  She led the UCLA Sustainability Committee to selection as LA’s Environmentalist of the Year for 2014 and she helped get UCLA listed on the 2014 edition of the Princeton Review Green Honor Roll as one of the 21 most sustainable universities in America. Katz is also an instructor at the UCLA Extension where she is an instructor for the Global Sustainability Certificate Program. Her course was named one of LA Weekly’s 10 Best Classes in LA.


Crime Forum Opens in Washington DC: Judge Alm Delivers on HOPE Rosenfield Forum brings together researchers to discuss methods of crime reduction

WASHINGTON, DC—Addressing the record incarceration rates across the U.S. and the boom in the prison population, the UCLA School of Public Affairs launched the first in a series of public discussions on critical national issues with the opening dinner of the Rosenfield Forums at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

“The Rosenfield Forums are an opportunity to bring together some of the country’s best thinkers, practitioners, advocates, policy makers, and other stakeholders,” says Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., “This week’s particular event focuses on encouraging all of us to think a little differently about how we reduce crime in the United States. This is an important and deeply corrosive phenomenon: it corrodes the public space, it corrodes our young people, and it crowds our prisons. Much of the worlds of crime and punishment are artificially constructed around these two poles—too much crime and too much incarceration. What you’ll see in this event is scholars grappling with the complexities of these issues, and presenting some elegant solutions—elegant in both simplicity and power.”

The inaugural forum, “Escaping the Prison Trap: How to Have Less Crime and Less Incarceration,” featured a keynote address on October 7 by the Honorable Steve S. Alm of the Hawaii State Judiciary. Alm is the creator of Project HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity and Probation and Enforcement), an innovative crime reduction program for drug offenses that has had dramatic success rates. Judge Alm described a frustrating sentencing and incarceration system that amounted to little more than a revolving door for minor drug offenders to move in and out of the judicial system.

“I can send them to the beach, or send them to prison—it’s crazy that these were the only options.” After gaining cooperation from several agencies, including the probation department, the sheriffs and U.S. marshals, Judge Alm created a systematic approach in which offenders were given instructions for calling a telephone hotline to see if they were selected that day for random drug testing. If they tested positive for drugs, they are arrested on the spot and brought up for a hearing within two days. “Swift and certain consequence is the key.” Says Alm, “If probationers know there will be caught and punished, they will not violate. Probation officers are pleased with the results, because clients were showing up to their appointments, and showing up sober.”

The program has had remarkable success in Hawaii (up to a 50% drop in repeat offenses among drug probationers); has been replicated by other judges; and has become the focus of research by UCLA Public Policy Professor Mark Kleiman and Pepperdine University Public Policy Professor Angela Hawken. The Department of Justice has funded a program to introduce the program to other jurisdictions across the country.

The Rosenfield Forums continue on October 8 at the Rayburn Building on Capital Hill with panel discussions on: reducing juvenile crime and incarceration, led by Associate Professor Laura Abrams of the Department of Social Welfare; the consequences of mass incarceration, led by Professor Michael Stoll of the Department of Public Policy; and getting more crime control with less punishment, led by Professor Mark Kleiman of the Department of Public Policy.