For Apple CEO Tim Cook, privacy is a matter of “life and death,” which is why he said Wednesday he will not cooperate with a federal court order to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists.
Cook intends to challenge the “unprecedented” and “chilling” order issued by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, which mandates that Apple must breach security measures installed on Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c, The New York Times reports. Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in San Bernardino in a terrorist attack.
It’s unclear if Apple is even capable of retroactively hacking a phone that is both locked and encrypted. If the software to breach iPhone security does not exist yet, Apple must create it, ordered Pym.
While at first it appeared as though Apple would have no choice but to comply, Cook said only a few hours after the order was released that Apple will do everything it can to resist.
“We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” Cook said in a letter written to Apple customers.
The reason for the order in the first place is that the iPhone is secure enough to successfully frustrate FBI efforts to break in and access data. Only so much fiddling is possible, as the iPhone wipes the data off the device after 10 unsuccessful password entry attempts.
Cook said that back door software is “something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.”
“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a back door,” said Cook. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
Whether Apple will win the legal battle is unknown, though the company will certainly try. The central legal justification federal attorneys are citing is a case from 1977, in which the court mandated that phone companies install a device to monitor phone lines. The difference, of course, is that monitoring a phone line is entirely different than breaching a phone’s security to access data on an operating system.
The government is also citing the All Writs Act of 1789.
“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 said in response to the government’s legal justification. “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.”
Cook believes that FBI intentions are good, but also said that complying with an order to install a back door is simply unacceptable.
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