Apple says it has no intention of complying with a federal magistrate’s order to unlock the cell phone used by the San Bernardino shooters, calling the back door system requested by the court “too dangerous to create.”
The order is the result of the FBI’s inability to unlock a cell phone owned by Syed Rizwan Farook who killed 14 people and injured dozens more when he and his wife opened fire on a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health holiday party in December.
The FBI has been trying unsuccessfully to break into Farook’s work phone, an iPhone was issued by San Bernardino County, ever since. Their biggest problem, according to reports, has been trying to guess the password without triggering an iOS feature that erases the phone after more than 10 incorrect password attempts. Other electronics, including personal cell phones and hard drives, were destroyed or disposed of.
On Tuesday, federal magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to create a new operating system that would allow the FBI to try out thousands of passwords without disabling the phone.
Apple, Tim Cook wrote in a strongly worded statement Wednesday, has no intention of complying with that request.
Calling the order an “overreach,” Cook writes in the statement that, “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.”
The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The 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.
Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.
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.
Left unmentioned in Cook’s statement is that complying with the very public order would also be extremely bad for business. His strongly-worded response is also likely due in part to the portion of the 40-page ruling which gives Apple five days to notify the court if it believes the order is unreasonably burdensome to the company.