Apple CEO Tim Cook said Wednesday the U.S. government took an «unprecedented step» by ordering the company to help the FBI access an iPhone used by one of the shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December.
A judge issued the order Tuesday saying Apple shall provide software to bypass an auto-erase function that deletes content from iPhones if someone enters 10 incorrect passwords. Authorities are investigating whether Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, had militant ties but have been unable to access Farook’s phone without his password.
In a statement on Apple’s website, Cook said they are challenging the FBI’s demand because building the software to defeat Apple’s own security measures is «too dangerous to create.» He cited the need to protect information from hackers and criminals and rejected the judge’s assertion that such software could be created to work only on Farook’s phone.
No sympathy for terrorists
Cook said the company has no sympathy for terrorists, and has provided the FBI with data it has in its possession and engineers with ideas on other options investigators could use.
«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,» he wrote.
Cook called the order an «overreach by the government,» and said it could lead to establishing precedent for authorities to obtain personal data from anyone’s phone.
With a new tool to bypass the auto-erase function, the FBI would be free to repeatedly try password combinations in hopes of eventually getting the right one without the risk of losing text message, phone log or web browsing data from the phone.
Apple boosted encryption on its phones in 2014 after increased scrutiny on digital privacy. The government has complained that the higher security measures make criminal and national security investigations, such as the California shootings, more difficult.
Tuesday’s order gives Apple the option of providing the government with alternative ways to access Farook’s phone, as long as the methods comply with the requirements to bypass the auto-erase feature, allow for the FBI to guess passwords, and ensure no other software on the phone will delay password tries.