Apple Defies Court Order To Unlock San Bernardino Shooter's iPhone
The FBI is calling on Apple to override the auto-erase function on the iPhone of San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. And now, a U.S. judge is ordering the tech giant to comply within five days (from yesterday) so the federal agency can get the passcode and obtain data on the device. So far, Apple is openly defying the order.
"Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily," according to a Tuesday filing. In the document, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker referred to the request as "a potentially important step" in the process of learning everything we possibly can about the December 2nd deadly attack in San Bernardino.
On that day, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot at people gathered at a holiday gathering for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. The couple killed 14 people and seriously wounded 20 others. Later that day, Farook and his wife were killed in a shootout with police. Since the attack, authorities have been going through their belongings, including their smartphones, trying to determine their motives and whether they were part of a larger terrorist plot.
The court order comes just days after Congress members Ted Lieu, Blake Farenthold, Suzan DelBene, and Mike Bishop introduced the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications (ENCRYPT) Act of 2016. If passed, the legislation would "preempt state and local government encryption laws to ensure a uniform, national policy for the interstate issue of encryption technology."
What’s at Stake?
Thus far, Apple is not on board. In a statement yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook (pictured above) said the judge’s order has implications far beyond the legal case at hand. He said he wanted Apple customers and the general population to understand what's at stake.
“Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data,” Cook said. “Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.”
Cook said Apple has used encryption to protect customers’ personal data for many years because the company believes it's the only way to keep information safe. Apple has even put that data out of its own reach for the sake of consumer privacy, he said.
Igor Baikalov, chief scientist at security analytics firm Securonix, said most of the sensationalism around this issue comes from the attempts to institute a generic approach to a very diverse set of circumstances. Baikalov said the San Bernardino case is a no-brainer -- but when you consider the long line of inquiries lined up after this case claiming similar urgency, two difficult questions arise: Where do you draw the line; and who draws it?
“Since the technology vendors seem to be the ones in the crosshairs of both customers and law enforcement, it's only fair to leave the determination to them,” said Baikalov. “Give them the ability to balance their privacy policies with legal pressure, because the success and often the survival of their business is at stake here, whether they want it or not.”
Again, Cook disagreed. When the FBI has requested data that’s in Apple’s possession, the company complied, according to Cook. More than that, Apple also made its engineers available to advise the FBI, he added. But that's where Cook is drawing the line.
“Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them,” Cook said. “But now the U.S. 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.”
Apple Won't Bow
It is well known that phone carriers and manufacturers of locked cell phones maintain their own sets of keys within their publicly declared walled gardens to the devices they sell, according to Philip Lieberman, president of cyber defense firm Lieberman Software.
"This barrier to competition and their ability to select winners and losers in their app store, as well as patch and improve their operating system at any time, is also the backdoor they have to get into any phone they wish, and do as they wish at any time, irrespective of a customer's wish to maintain privacy or security," Liberman said. "It will be interesting to see how all parties respond to a federal order to comply with a lawful order designed to counter terrorism."
Still, Apple doesn't seem ready to budge. Cook said the government's request ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.
"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," Cook said. "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."
Although Apple believes the FBI’s intentions are good, Cook said it would be wrong for the government to force the company to build a backdoor into its products. "And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect," he said.
Posted: 2016-02-21 @ 3:58pm PT
Apple, as great as they are, and as happy as I am with their products and innovation is dead wrong here. Either we are a country of laws or were not. They look like they're putting themselves above the law. Fourteen people were murdered----murdered and they act like their some form of God. National security is more important than Apple's proprietary software. Rather than look dishonest in the news, why don't they get a private meeting with judge and state their case. Candidly, if I were the competition, I would put together an integrated marketing campaign based on loyalty to the USA with an offer to get a free Android phone and throw out the "Rotten Apple". The military would be my spokes person.
Posted: 2016-02-20 @ 12:10pm PT
IMO we should all consider boycotting Apple. When the authorities need such valuable information and they follow the legal process of obtaining a search warrant or court order, you comply. That or make obtaining the warrant or an order a much more scrutinized process, but for heaven's sake we can't allow companies/people to decide when they are going to comply or not. If someone is wronged in this legal process there are other legal means of seeking restitution. Cook's subjective reasoning for disobeying a lawful order is going to set dangerous precedent that's going to hamstring future investigations. This is just the product of the liberal paranoia and black helicopter theory that's much to common anymore IMO.
Posted: 2016-02-19 @ 12:58pm PT
Good for Apple. The government has been using terrorism as an excuse to run roughshod over basic civil rights and, incredibly, many people don't seem to notice or care. Snowden told us what is going on so this request isn't a surprise.
"Freedom dies in little pieces" - German proverb.
"'Necessity' is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." - William Pitt, 1783
Posted: 2016-02-17 @ 8:36pm PT
Just wanted to post an update: Google CEO Sundar Pichai late this afternoon made a series of comments on his Twitter account related to the issue of Apple and iPhone encryption. In his tweets, Pichai said:
"1/5 Important post by @tim_cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy"
"2/5 We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism"
"3/5 We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders"
"4/5 But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent"
"5/5 Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue"
Posted: 2016-02-17 @ 11:10am PT
Cook should be arrested and held without bail until Apple complies. Apple should be fined every day it does not comply with the court order. All federal contracts with Apple should be canceled. And no federal money should be disbursed to any state government that does not cancel its Apple contracts.