Apple CEO Timothy Cook published a letter on the company’s website yesterday that states the company oppose a new court order signed by U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym requiring the iPhone maker to disable a built in feature on its iPhones that wipes away the data on the phone after 10 incorrect times so that federal investigators can access a backdoor and obtain private data on the phone for cases that are under investigation.
The legal order is viewed as the latest undertaking by the Department of Justice to access data on the phone of one San Bernardino terrorist who pledged allegiance to Islamic State before killing 14 innocent Americans and committing the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.
The move by the federal judge requiring Apple to “bypass or disable the auto erase function” and “enable the FBI to submit passcodes for testing” raises a host of privacy concerns about the ability of the federal government to intervene in internal affairs of a U.S. corporation and force compliance over issues pertaining to encryption and software design.
“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” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook.
“For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business” Cook added.
Cook’s letter makes it clear that Apple was outraged by the deadly acts of terrorism in San Bernardino and made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI.
But Cook defiantly explained that the federal court order seeks to force Apple’s hand and make some changes with security features that protect Apple customers from malicious cyber attacks.
“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” Cook wrote.
The FBI is using the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority in Apple’s case.
The Writs Act has been used in some other cases including a 1977 New York Telephone Co. Supreme Court decision that forced a telephone company to provide the FBI with leased lines to access its pen register order.
Cook wrote that the implications of the All Writs Act with Apple 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. 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 wrote.
Cook said that Apple believes that they must speak out in the face of what is viewed as an overreach by the U.S. government.
“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” Cook wrote.