All you need to know: Apple vs. FBI

February 17, 2016

What’s happened?

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.

 

 

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.

 

Syed Rizwan Farook is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the FBI, December 4, 2015. U.S.-born husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his spouse, Tashfeen Malik, 29, a native of Pakistan who lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years, died in a shootout with police hours after Wednesday's attack on a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in San Bernardino, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles.  REUTERS/FBI/Handout via Reuters  ATTENTION EDITORS -  FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX1X9RG

Syed Rizwan Farook is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the FBI, December 4, 2015.REUTERS/FBI/Handout via Reuters

 

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.

 

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook speaks during a event for students to learn to write computer code at the Apple store in the Manhattan borough of New York December 9, 2015.     REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX1XZDA

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook speaks during a event for students to learn to write computer code at the Apple store in the Manhattan borough of New York December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

 

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.

 

 

What did Apple say back?  

 

Late on Tuesday evening Apple CEO Tim Cook published ‘A Message to Our Customers’.    

 

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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.

 

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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.     

 

 

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.

 

A man tests a mobile phone, an iPhone 6 by Apple in a shop in Munich, Germany, January 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Michaela Rehle - RTX247EU

A man tests a mobile phone, an iPhone 6 by Apple in a shop in Munich, Germany, January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle – RTX247EU

 

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