Apple refuses to comply with court order to help FBI investigate San Bernardino terrorists

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, posted an explanation on the company’s Web site of why the company was refusing to help the FBI investigate the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Apple and Google argue that data protection is of key commercial importance at a time of heightened concern about identify and data theft.

The court order was issued on 16 February by Judge Sheri Pym of the Central California District Court. It required Apple to bypass security functions on the cellphone used by Farook.

The chief prosecutor for the Central California District, Eileen Decker, said of the Apple order: “We have made a solemn commitment to the victims and their families that we will leave no stone unturned as we gather as much information and evidence as possible,” she said. “These victims and families deserve nothing less.”

Cook, in his post on the company’s Web site, said that Apple has “no sympathy for terrorists,” but that what the government was asking was “an unprecedented step, which threatens the security of our customers” and “which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

The Times notes that the court order relied on a 1789 law called the “All Writs Act.” The need to rely on that law is the result of the failure of Congress to update the “Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act” of 1994.

Apple argues that once the government has the means to break into one iPhone, there is no guarantee it will not hack into others in the future?

“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,” Cook wrote. “The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals.

“The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe. We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) issued a statement in support of Apple. “The government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone,” it said. “And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security.”