All you need to know: Apple vs. FBI
A federal judge has ordered Apple to make it easier to access data on a phone recovered from one of the San Bernardino shooters – and Apple has said no.
It said that this would amount to creating a backdoor to the iPhone that doesn’t exist today and that could have “chilling” implications beyond breaking into one device.
Apple’s concern is that once a master key exists it would be able to unlock any device in someone’s possession, and it could then be used by hackers, criminals and governments.
Judge: Apple must help FBI crack terrorist’s iPhone.
A battle of this kind has been looming since 2014. That’s when Apple started making the iPhone with additional encryption the company couldn’t unlock itself.
Back then, Apple was working to prove itself as strict on privacy and customer security after leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance programs.
Ever since, it has said it’s no longer able to help law enforcement unlock newer models of customers’ iPhones.
What exactly did the FBI ask Apple to do?
The FBI wants to get into the phone of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino attackers.
Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, was killed in a shootout with police after they killed 14 people in a shooting spree last December.
Investigators are looking into the couple’s links to radical Islamic groups and who they may have been communicating with before the attack.
One problem: The FBI can’t get into Farook’s phone without help.
Judge Sheri Pym of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ordered that Apple must provide “reasonable technical assistance” to investigators seeking to unlock data on Farook’s iPhone 5C.
Specifically, the court wanted Apple to build a new version of the iPhone operating system which could overcome major security features and install it on this phone.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 17, 2016
What did Apple say back?
Late on Tuesday evening Apple CEO Tim Cook published ‘A Message to Our Customers’.
Cook thinks the FBI’s intentions are good – but their ask is too dangerous.
He said that while the government may say the software’s use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee control over how this would be used or whose hands it could fall into.
Cook said the court order amounts to the government asking Apple to hack its own users, and it sets a dangerous precedent.
“We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack,” he said.
Noted: Apple now isn’t mentioning privacy at all. All about engineering security v. bad actors. That’s much stronger ground to argue from. — Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) February 17, 2016
Apple hasn’t said what it will do next but many think the most likely step is to file an appeal.
So why would an iPhone backdoor be such a big deal?
Apple says it uses encryption to protect customers’ personal data because it thinks it’s the only way to keep that information safe, to the extent of even putting it out of their own reach.
This is meant to protect customers from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals – and it also protects users from heightened government surveillance.
Apple’s battle over an iPhone backdoor is the most recent in a war over national security and encryption between tech companies and the U.S. government.
Last year, the White House abandoned a push for legislation that would mandate U.S. tech firms to allow investigators a way to overcome encryption protections, in the face of huge private sector opposition.
However, since the shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, the debate is looming large again.