Tech

Tim Cook Asks FBI To Withdraw Order To Hack Terrorist’s iPhone

In an all-hands memo to Apple employees and a public Q&A, Tim Cook asked the Justice Department to withdraw a court order that would force Apple to unlock the San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone, saying the company has already done everything within its power and the law to help in the case.

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Apple’s war of words with the FBI continues apace with no end in sight. Early Monday morning, CEO Tim Cook sent an all-hands memo to Apple employees reiterating the company’s stance on a federal court order that told the company to help the government bypass security functions on an iPhone used by one of the attackers who gunned down 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.

The memo — obtained and verified by BuzzFeed News — thanks Apple employees for their support and notes an outpouring of public support from “thousands of people in all 50 states” as well. And it goes on to again lay out Apple’s reasons for challenging the court order, before calling on the government to withdraw it entirely.

“We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms,” Cook writes.

Apple, Cook states, would happily participate in such an effort — one conducted with an eye towards preserving our privacy and the other freedoms and liberties government is intended to protect.

“This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation,” Cook writes. “At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.”

Cook’s letter serves as a preface to a public Q&A for Apple customers meant to answer questions about the facts of the case, its stakes, and Apple’s position. It also works to rebut arguments recently put forth by the FBI, which over the weekend argued that what it is asking Apple to do isn’t that big a deal.

“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” FBI Director James Comey wrote in a blog post Sunday night, adding that crucial decisions about public safety and privacy shouldn’t be left to “corporations that sell stuff for a living.”

Apple’s Q&A asserts that while the FBI might claim to not want a master key to the iPhone, that is exactly what it would get. “In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks,” the company explains. “Of course Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyber attacks.”

Cook’s letter, the Q&A that accompanies it, and the speed with which Apple is working to rebut the government’s arguments show a company unwavering in its position and resolute in fending off a mandate that it believes would set a dangerous precedent. This is a pitched battle already, and Apple is girding up for the long haul. Indeed, the company’s recent hiring of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner and former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson as outside counsel suggests Apple is prepared to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court if things should go that way.

“We have done everything that’s both within our power and within the law to help in this case,” Apple explains in its Q&A. “As the government has confirmed, we’ve handed over all the data we have, including a backup of the iPhone in question. But now they have asked us for information we simply do not have.”

Read Cook’s full all-hands memo to Apple employees:

Team,

Last week we asked our customers and people across the United States to join a public dialogue about important issues facing our country. In the week since that letter, I’ve been grateful for the thought and discussion we’ve heard and read, as well as the outpouring of support we’ve received from across America.

As individuals and as a company, we have no tolerance or sympathy for terrorists. When they commit unspeakable acts like the tragic attacks in San Bernardino, we work to help the authorities pursue justice for the victims. And that’s exactly what we did.

This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government’s order we knew we had to speak out. At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.

As you know, we use encryption to protect our customers — whose data is under siege. We work hard to improve security with every software release because the threats are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated all the time.

Some advocates of the government’s order want us to roll back data protections to iOS 7, which we released in September 2013. Starting with iOS 8, we began encrypting data in a way that not even the iPhone itself can read without the user’s passcode, so if it is lost or stolen, our personal data, conversations, financial and health information are far more secure. We all know that turning back the clock on that progress would be a terrible idea.

Our fellow citizens know it, too. Over the past week I’ve received messages from thousands of people in all 50 states, and the overwhelming majority are writing to voice their strong support. One email was from a 13-year-old app developer who thanked us for standing up for “all future generations.” And a 30-year Army veteran told me, “Like my freedom, I will always consider my privacy as a treasure.”

I’ve also heard from many of you and I am especially grateful for your support.

Many people still have questions about the case and we want to make sure they understand the facts. So today we are posting answers on apple.com/customer-letter/answers/ to provide more information on this issue. I encourage you to read them.

Apple is a uniquely American company. It does not feel right to be on the opposite side of the government in a case centering on the freedoms and liberties that government is meant to protect.

Our country has always been strongest when we come together. We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.

People trust Apple to keep their data safe, and that data is an increasingly important part of everyone’s lives. You do an incredible job protecting them with the features we design into our products. Thank you.

Tim










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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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