In an unprecedented ruling Tuesday, a magistrate judge ordered Apple Inc. to infiltrate the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino shooting case, and the CEO of Apple issued a public statement vowing to fight back against it.
As part of an investigation into the shooting that occurred in San Bernardino, California in December when a couple opened fire at a work Christmas party killing 14 people and wounding 22, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to help the Obama administration break into an encrypted iPhone that belonged to Syed Farook, one of the suspected shooters.
Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook posted a statement regarding the order online, and said he opposes it due to his belief that it “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
According to Cook, the government has ordered Apple to create “a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation.”
Cook acknowledged the importance of encryption, and said that although he was “shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino,” he feels that Apple has worked with the FBI to the fullest extent in retrieving information related to the case.
When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.
Cook brought up the unparalleled power that would come from Apple agreeing to “build a backdoor” into the iPhone, which would create “the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
“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.
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.”
Cook noted that “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.”
Cook went on to say that while the government has argued that “building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution,” he believes that once “a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”
“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly,” Cook said. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.”
We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.
Cook said “the implications of the government’s demands are chilling,” and noted that if a backdoor to the iPhone is built, the U.S. government could “extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”
We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications. While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.