Apple has published an open letter to its customers signed by CEO Tim Cook saying that the company will oppose an order from a US Federal judge to help FBI investigators access data on the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook. Since this order has implications far beyond the legal case at hand, this moment calls for public discussion, Tim Cook argues, so the letter aims to give more insight to Apple’s customers about what is at stake.
Alongside describing the importance of smartphones in our everyday life, Cook points to the need for encryption to protect the private data we store on the devices. He then goes on to say that Apple and its employees were “shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December” and had helped the FBI by providing the data the company had in its possession, made engineers available to advise the FBI, and gave their ideas “on a number of investigative options at their disposal.”
But this is where Apple stops, Tim Cook says:
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.
Apple’s position on software “backdoors” has been made public several times by Cook, and he stresses that once again in his open letter, describing the implications: The FBI wants Apple to “make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and to install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation.”
The FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the “All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority,” Cook writes. The chilling effect of this, he argues, is that it would allow the government to capture data from anyone’s device and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept messages, access private information such as health records, financial data, and location info; or even access the phone’s microphone without the customer’s knowledge.
Cook concludes that opposing the order isn’t something Apple takes lightly, and the company challenges FBI’s demand “with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country.”