Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company will fight a government order to assist federal investigators with unlocking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terror attackers.
In a written statement to Apple customers, Cook called the government request "an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers." In the statement, Cook explained at length the company's reasoning to oppose the order, highlighting what's at stake in creating a backdoor for the government. "In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge," Cook wrote.
More than two months after the attack that left 14 people dead at a California government center, the FBI has been unable to access a cell phone owned by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik because it is password protected and encrypted.
Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to hand over software to the FBI that would allow it to beat a security feature on the iPhone that erases all data after a number of unsuccessful password attempts, according to an AP report. According to the motion filed, it's impossible for the FBI to confirm whether the phone has the auto-erase feature enabled or not.
Last week, FBI director James Comey addressed the difficulties the bureau faced in the two months following the shootings, calling for tech companies to comply with court orders to assist with investigations.
“I don’t want a door, I don’t want a window, I don’t want a sliding glass door,” Comey said. “I would like people to comply with court orders, and that’s the conversation we’re trying to have.”
Here's more from Cook's open letter:
We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.
The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.
Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton – who has been vocal about the hurdles that law enforcement agencies have faced with the emergence of technologies that can render a phone inaccessible even with a search warrant – commended the judge's ruling in a statement released Wednesday morning.
I commend U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym for the ruling in support of the FBI's continuing investigation into the San Bernardino terrorist attack. No device, no car, and no apartment should be beyond the reach of a court ordered search warrant.
As the threats from ISIL become more divergent and complex, we cannot give those seeking to harm us additional tools to keep their activity secret. I reiterate my call on Congress to act immediately in passing legislation to provide law enforcement the tools we need to keep America safe.
Brendan Klinkenberg is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Brendan Klinkenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Paczkowski is the managing editor for BuzzFeed San Francisco. Formerly deputy managing editor for Re/code and AllThingsD, he's been covering the intersection of technology and culture since 1997.
Contact John Paczkowski at John.Paczkowski@buzzfeed.com.
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