Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained why his company will refuse to write custom iOS firmware to help the FBI decrypt an iPhone belonging to a mass murderer.
A magistrate judge in California had ordered Apple to assist the FBI in decrypting an iDevice owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
In response to this, Cook wrote an open letter saying the time has come to rise up and overthrow the government the step is "unprecedented" and "threatens the security of our customers."
“We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” said Cook, as he declared that the “moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.”
What is at stake?
Cook's letter claimed Apple has made its engineers available to the FBI for advice, as well as offering its "best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal."
Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the US 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.
Cook said that the court order amounts to Apple making "a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, [to] install 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."
Acknowledging that the FBI doesn't want to use the toxic phrase "backdoor", Cook said it was important to "make no mistake", alleging that any version of iOS which would allow security mechanisms in the device to be bypassed would "undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."
We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.
A dangerous precedent, claims Cook
"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," wrote the CEO.
The All Writs Act indeed originated in 1789, though it was last amended in 1911.
"The implications of the government’s demands are chilling," wrote Cook, claiming that if the government could unlock the shooter's iPhone 5C then it could "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.
Apple, as such, is "challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country."
"We fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect," concluded Cook. ®