Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) opposed a court order to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unlock the iPhone 5C owned by one of the shooters in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino California. Fourteen people were killed and 22 others were injured in the attack.
Federal prosecutors requested a court order to compel the iPhone maker to help the FBI in the investigation. The prosecutors argued that Apple has the “exclusive technical means” to assist the government in completing its investigation, but the tech giant refused to help voluntarily.
Judge Sheri Pym of the U.S. District Court of Los Angeles ordered the iPhone maker to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI in its investigation in the San Bernardino case.
The agency is asking Apple’s assistance to unlock Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5C to find out any potential communication with the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist groups. Farook and his wife were killed in a shootout with the police.
Apple says government’s demand threatens customers’ security
In a letter to customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained the company’s reasons for its decision to reject the court order. According to him, the government demanded an unprecedented step that threatens the security of its customers.
Cook explained that encryption is necessary to protect the personal information of its customers, and the company believed that the contents of their iPhone is none of its business—the reason why the company decided to put customers data out of its reach.
When it comes to the San Bernardino case, Cook said Apple worked hard to support the government in its effort to solve the horrible crime. He said, “We have no sympathy for terrorists.”
According to Cook, Apple provided the data in their possession that was requested by the FBI. The company also complied with valid subpoenas and search warrants, made its engineers available to advise the agency and offered best ideas on a number of investigative options.
Cook emphasized that the company did everything within its power and within the law to help the FBI in its investigation. However, he said the government is now demanding something it does not have, which the company considers “too dangerous to create.”
A backdoor or master key for the iPhone
Cook said the FBI is asking Apple to build a new version of the iPhone operating system that would circumvent important security options. The agency said it would only install such version of the iOS on an iPhone recovered during an investigation.
Cook said that kind of software would have the potential to unlock any iPhone, but he made it clear that such tool does not exist today.
“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control,” said Cook.
According to him, that kind of software if created is like a master key that could be used repeatedly to open hundreds of millions of locks or iPhones. He said, “No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”
Government demand undermines freedom and liberty
Cook said the government is asking Apple to hack its own users. It is asking the company to undermine decades of security advancements protecting customers from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals.
He emphasized that the FBI is proposing the unprecedented use if the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority instead of asking the Congress for a legislative action.
Cook pointed out that the government’s move to use the All Writs Act and its demand to make it easier to unlock iPhones has chilling implications—it would have the ability to reach into any person’s device and obtain their data. He said the government could extend its breach of privacy and demand Apple to build surveillance software to intercept users’ messages, access health records, and financial data or track their location.
According to him, “Opposing this order is not something we take lightly.” The management decided to speak up because they are seeing an overreach by the U.S. government.
Apple believed that the FBI’s intentions are good, but emphasized that it would be wrong for the government to force the company build a backdoor into its products. “We fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect,” said Cook.