The FBI could turn on your phone's camera or microphone by remote control to spy on you, according to top Apple exec Eddy Cue, if the Feds win their case to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook.
Speaking to Spanish-language station Univision, Cue, who has Cuban parents and is fluent in Spanish, warned that the precedent set by the Feds use of the All Writs Act could go far beyond just accessing phones already in federal custody.
The court order Apple is refusing to cooperate with would effectively require the iGiant to create a new version of its mobile operating system – and that is a step too far, he argued.
"When we are forced to create a new system to do new things, where will it stop?" he hypothesized. "Some day they will want us to turn on your phone's camera or microphone. Those are things we cannot do now."
As senior VP of internet software and services, Cue is the key exec when it comes to the iPhone's software. Since the case first blew up last month when Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly refused to follow a court order to bypass the iPhone's lock-and-delete function, the company has been warning that it represents a significant and dangerous precedent.
Although the FBI initially claimed that the court case was relevant to only a single phone, it has since admitted that it would use this case to ask for access to dozens of other phones held in evidence. Now, Apple is pushing that argument even further by arguing that the ability to force Apple to develop new features sets a much larger and more worrying precedent.
How far does the rabbit hole go?
Cue also argues those powers wouldn't only be used in cases of terrorism. "Any law that gives that much authority to get someone's information is something to worry about," he noted.
"As I said, where are you going to stop? In a divorce case? In an immigration case? In a tax case?"
Cue also reiterated the main argument that Apple has made so far with respect to the court order: that by knowingly creating a flaw in its security, it is only a matter of time before others discover that hole and use it for illegal pursuits.
He also flagged the fact that the government itself has lost huge amounts of personal information in recent years through hacking attacks: "In recent years, the government has lost more than five million fingerprints – of government employees. They have lost hundreds of millions of credit card numbers. This is happening more and more. And the only way we can protect ourselves is to make the phone safer."
As for the case itself, Cue says Apple will abide by the law if it decides against the company, but a decision against it would be "a very bad thing." A decision of this magnitude should be decided by Congress, not a judge, he argued, and said Apple was prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court in part because it may give Congress time to pass a law that would clarify the situation.
"We want to educate the government to understand what the problems are and make sure they are protecting security," he said. "Which is what most of them want too."
Legal arguments in the case are set for March 22. ®