Apple CEO Tim Cook released a customer letter yesterday that answered some questions about Apple and security in response to a February 16th Federal court order that requires the iPhone maker to write an entirely new operating system for the U.S. government’s use that could access data on the iPhone 5c that belonged to one of the San Bernardino’s terrorists who killed 14 innocent Americans and was later killed by police.
The U.S. government is asking Apple to create a unique version of iOS that would bypass security protections on the iPhone Lock screen, remove security features, and add a new ability to the operating system to attack iPhone encryption, allowing a passcode to be input electronically.
Cook explained in the Q&A letter that the passcode lock and requirement for manual entry of the passcode are at the center of the safeguards that were built into the fabric of iOS.
Cook said that it would be fundamentally wrong to weaken Apple products with a government ordered back door that could put privacy and safety at risk, establish a new precedent that would expand the powers of the government, and lead the tech company into unchartered waters.
Simply put, Apple can’t guarantee that the new back-door software they are being court ordered to design for the U.S. government will only be used to unlock the one iPhone that belonged to the San Bernardino terrorist.
“The digital world is very different from the physical world. In the physical world you can destroy something and it’s gone. But in the digital world, the technique, once created, could be used over and over again, on any number of devices” Cook said.
“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks” Cook added.
Apple CEO Tim Cook’s First Letter On February 16th In Response to Federal Court Order
On February 16th Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter on Apple’s website that outlined some of the reasons that Apple is opposing the federal court order and defends the need for encryption with Apple’s iOS.
“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.
Cook explained that Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives and store an incredible amount of personal information including financial information, health data, and knowledge about where we have been and where we are going.
“All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. 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.
If Apple is forced to comply with the court order, it will open up a Pandora’s Box of complicated privacy, legal, and security issues for the iPhone maker.
A new precedent requiring Apple to build a new back door software for the U.S. government, could open up doors for other governments across the world to demand that Apple also design a new iOS software for their own criminal cases.
An intrusive order by the U.S. government, if upheld in the courts down the road, could lead to other international governments demanding their own backdoor into Apple’s software security.
If the FBI is successful in achieving the aims of the federal court order, other tech companies may also have to succumb to similar demands from the U.S. government.
Cook wrote in his February 16th letter that the implications of the government’s demands are chilling and would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.
Other prominent tech CEO’s including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have also weighed in and shown support for Apple’s position.
During a recent tech conference this week in Barcelona, Zuckerberg said “We believe in encryption.”
FBI Director James Comey Comments About Victims of San Bernardino Attack
On Sunday February 21st FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter that was posted on Lawfire blog and downplayed the notion that the FBI was trying to establish a new precedent or send a message.
“It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI” Comey wrote.
Comey explained that the FBI doesn’t want to break Apple’s encryption or master code and simply wants an opportunity to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly.
Comey said that the San Bernardino terrorist case highlights that we have awesome new technology that creates tension between two values we all treasure—privacy and safety.
Comey believes that the tension shouldn’t be resolved by a “corporations that sells stuff for a living” or by the FBI.
He said that it should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Apple’s lawyer, Ted Olson, made it clear that Apple has the greatest respect for the Justice Department and the FBI, and for their goals and their motivations.
But he pointed out that this is an extremely important debate about privacy and civil liberties.
“Apple has a responsibility to maintain the trust and faith of millions of people who’ve depended upon Apple to produce a product that protects their privacy, their intimate personal life. This is a Pandora’s box” Olson said.
Olson reiterated that if the FBI is successful in compelling Apple to re-design their iOS encryption software, a new precedent could snowball out of control and lead to a host of international privacy problems.
“There are judges all over this country and we’re talking about foreign governments, people in foreign countries that are going to be very, very susceptible to invasion of their privacy if Apple can be forced to change its iPhone, to redesign its iPhone” Olson said.
Olson believes that the upcoming decision should involve a national debate.