The outcome is expected to have far-reaching implications in setting a precedent for future battles between digital privacy advocates and US national security interests.
Here’s what you need to know about the fight so far:
So why has this issue arisen?
The FBI contacted Apple two weeks ago with a request for assistance in hacking the iPhone of one December’s San Bernardino mass shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple refused.
The matter was brought before the US District Court in LA on February 16, where US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym issued a 40-page statement requiring that Apple give “reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI. The tech company was given five days to formally respond to this order.
Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an open letter the next day, saying the company would not comply with the order. He called it an “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers…which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
What does the FBI want Apple to do?
Apple has already provided the FBI with data from weekly back-ups made on Farook’s iPhone with its iCloud service, but those backups stopped on October 19, according to a federal search warrant request.
The iPhone in question has certain security settings which will result in all personal data on the device being deleted after 10 failed passcode attempts. The FBI want Apple to alter the settings, allowing an unlimited number of attempts to enter the correct code.
The FBI want to control the access process, but say they do not wish to know how it works and this would be a once off use of such a “backdoor” system.
Why is Apple refusing to help?
In September 2014, Apple introduced new encryption for its iPhone operating system that would make it mathematically impossible for the company to unlock the phones. The move was a response to increased digital privacy concerns following revelations made by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden.
The company was alleged to be among a number of tech giants who had provided customers’ information to the FBI and the NSA via the PRISM programme, in compliance with court orders since 2012. Apple issued a statement saying they had “never heard” of Prism before June 2013.
Cook said in his statement Wednesday that the software needed to fulfil the FBI’s request does not exist today and“would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession”.
“Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,” he stated.
Hasn’t Apple complied with the FBI before?
Apple has unlocked phones for authorities at least 70 times since 2008, according to prosecutors arguing in a similar case in New York. Apple doesn’t dispute this figure.
The US government has been ordering Apple to grant it access to an iPhone that prosecutors seized as evidence against an admitted methamphetamines dealer for the past three months. Apple has acknowledged that it can conceivably unlock the phone in this case.
A government attorney also acknowledged during the case that one U.S. law enforcement agency has already developed the technology to crack at least some iPhones, without the assistance from Apple that officials are demanding now, according to Daily Beast.
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.
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.
cook is doing what any smart guy would do..milking it real nice..
unbelievable publicity..the unhackable phone..you cant pay enough money for that sort of PR..