Apple CEO Tim Cook has posted an open letter to all Apple customers posted on the company’s website, announcing that the company would oppose an order from a U.S. Federal judge to help the FBI access data on an iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Cook says that this moment calls for public discussion, and that the company wants its customers to understand what’s at stake.
Cook starts his letter by saying that with smartphones becoming a key part of our lives, we have started storing more of our important and vital personal information in them, which hackers and people with malicious intents are always trying to steal and use for their own benefit.
He then goes on to say that Apple and its employees were “shocked and outraged” by the San Bernardino attack and that Apple has complied with valid subpoenas and search warrants from federal investigators. Apple has also made engineers available to advise the FBI in addition to providing general advice on how they could go about investigating the case. However, Cook says that’s where Apple will draw the line.
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.
Thereby, Apple customers expect the company to protect their privacy and safeguard their data at all costs, which is what the company has successfully been able to do so far. In fact, Apple is so serious about this that it does not store the data in its own servers and even discards the encryption key that is required to decrypt the encrypted data of its customers on it servers.
However, the U.S. government is now asking Apple to create a backdoor in iOS that will allow them to access the data present in the iPhone 5c of one of the shooters of the San Bernardino case. As Cook puts it, “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.”
Cook says that this tool, which does not exist today, might allow hackers to unlock any iPhone that they have physical access to. And irrespective of the government’s promise that this tool will be used specifically in this case and destroyed after that, there is no guarantee that someone else will not use the same algorithm to create a similar backdoor in the future.
Finally, Cook says that the FBI is proposing what Apple calls an “unprecedented use” of the All Writs Act of 1789, which authorizes federal courts to issue all orders necessary or appropriate “in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” The chilling effect of this use, Cook argues, would allow the government power to capture data from any device or to require Apple to create a data collection program to intercept a customer’s data, potentially including infringements like using a phone’s camera or microphone without user knowledge.
Cook concludes Apple’s open letter by saying the company’s opposition to the order is not an action they took lightly and that they challenge the request “with the deepest respect for democracy and a love for our country.” Ultimately, Apple fears these demands would “undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
Tim Cook Explains Why Apple Won’t Create ‘Backdoor’ to Help FBI in San Bernardino case