Tim Cook: Apple Won't Create 'Backdoor' to Help FBI Access San Bernardino Shooter's iPhone

Apple CEO Tim Cook has posted an open letter to Apple customers 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 is one for public discussion, and that the company wants its customers to understand what's at stake.

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Cook starts the letter noting that smartphones have become an essential part of people's lives and that many people store private conversations, photos, music, notes, calendars and both financial and health information on their devices. Ultimately, Cook says, encryption helps keep people's data safe, which in turn keeps people's personal safety from being at risk.

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.

Cook says that while the government is suggesting that bypassing a feature that disables an iPhone after a certain number of failed password attempts could only be used once and on one device, that suggestion is "simply not true." He says that once created, such a key could be used over and over again. "In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks -- from restaurants and banks to stores and homes," Cook says.

The move, Cook says, would undermine Apple's decades of work on security advancements that keep its customers safe. He notes the irony in asking Apple's security engineers to purposefully weaken the protections they created. Apple says they found no precedent of an American company being forced to expose its customers, therefore putting them at a greater risk of attack. He notes that security experts have warned against weakening encryption as both bad guys and good guys would be able to take advantage of any potential weaknesses.

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."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

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57 months ago
If Apple stands by this and defies the US govt enforcing some old ******** law on apple forcing a backdoor to be made, I'll be one of the many who will LINE UP for an iPhone 7.

It is the principals behind this defiance that has me sold. A company that will fight for my right to privacy is a company I am happy to support. I will rid my android device and buy an iPhone 7 just because I know my data is secured even the almighty US government cannot access.

Tim Cook has my vote for man of the year 2016.
Score: 139 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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57 months ago

Fantastic Apple..now you become the preferred supplier for terrorists

You keep making ridiculous comments.

So you would have Apple sacrifice everyone's freedom of privacy because you're scared of terrorists? Your fear is the desired response of terrorism.

Just because there are some bad people out there in the world doesn't mean that we should all stop having our privacy.
Score: 77 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
57 months ago

Where is the limit?
If creating a backdoor meant avoiding another 9/11, what would be the right thing to do?

Hypothetical reasoning doesn't do anybody any good and is not only counterproductive, but completely misses the point. There are thousands of these scenarios posed all the time, such as the ethics of human experiments if it meant that medicine created as a result of these experiments could assist the greater good.

Often what these sort of circular arguments miss is that you begin with a hypothetical to justify the end reasoning. What if, hypothetically, this backdoor exploit meant that terrorists would be able to get information from officials and politicians' phones, which in itself enables another 9/11 -- when ironically that's what the backdoor was meant to prevent?

It's exactly the same hypothesis that doesn't really have an answer, and frankly doesn't matter.

If this sort of thing is pushed through, it would be at the expense of privacy and freedom. That much is a fact. So it's best to ignore what could happen, and instead look at what would happen, then make a reasoned decision from there. Manipulating people's emotions, fears and uncertainty to justify unprecedented acts has historically never, ever ended well.
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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57 months ago

Sorry Tim , I think you draw the wrong line. Supporting terrorism is just plain wrong. Any righteous person has nothing to hide from the government.

Apple, champions of terrorists everywhere.

Stay strong Tim!

Fantastic Apple..now you become the preferred supplier for terrorists

So the terrorists win

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Score: 63 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
57 months ago
I have a feeling the FBI has been waiting for something like the San Bernardino situation to bring up a lawsuit against Apple. We have known for years (thanks Snowden) that that FBI has been frustrated with the security on the iPhone. Now they finally got their chance to force Apple to create a backdoor.

This will most likely end up being a Supreme Court court. From a business POV, I don't think Apple could ever comply with this demand. The bad publicity around "Apple creates backdoor for the FBI" could easily destroy their sales. I don't know if the FBI is going to fine Tim Cook or sentence him to prison, idk, but he really really cannot comply with this demand. It's just too damaging to Apple.
Score: 60 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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57 months ago
Tim Cook is 100% right, and even more right when he says the FBI/Government will 'word this differently'.

Privacy will always be one way!
Score: 58 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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