Tim Cook Apple CEO has confirmed that the tech company will appeal a California judge’s order to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino shooting. Following the request, Cook argued, would “threaten the security of our customers.”
The device in question — an iPhone 5c — belonged to Syed Farook, who, alongside his wife, carried out a mass shooting during a training event at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, where he worked, last December. Farook and his wife were later killed by police in a shootout.
Authorities want access to data on the phone and are seeking Apple’s help to crack the passcode (PDF) by creating software which, when loaded onto the device, would circumvent the security system. That’s because, beyond the passcode itself, Apple’s security measures include an ‘auto-erase function’ which, if activated by a user, will erase all data on a device if the passcode is entered incorrectly 10 times.
In a letter to Apple customers, Cook said Apple has provided “data that’s in our possession” but it will not develop a “backdoor” for its software:
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.
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 also criticized authorities for using the All Writs Act and not Congressional legislation to make the request, which he labeled “a dangerous precedent” that would seriously weaken Apple’s security system after it emerged that the FBI was demanding that Apple create a backdoor in its iOS software to help agents access information on the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
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