After December's terrorist attack in San Bernardino, law enforcement officers have been struggling to access the encrypted data on the iPhone of one of the shooters. In hopes of moving the investigation further along, the Justice Department issued a court order for Apple to disable the feature that wipes data from the phone after 10 incorrect entries of the password. But, Apple CEO Tim Cook has responded with a strongly worded letter that essentially says, "No."
According to authorities, the order was issued so that critical evidence for the case would not be destroyed by the phone's own security features. The shooters involved in the December 2nd attacks are believed to be tied to ISIS, and data from their phones could potentially link them directly to known terrorists. It could also help authorities to confirm key details regarding the shooters' whereabouts on the day of the shooting, and better understand the event's timeline.
Although Cook understands the intentions behind the request, his primary concern is to protect the rights of all Apple customers. And, he feels that what the government is now asking falls outside of that scope.
"We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good," Cook said. "Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. 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 asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone."
Apple has been working with authorities wherever possible regarding evidence stored on one shooter's phone. Syed Rizwan Farook's phone actually belonged to the county public health department, where he worked. Because of this, the county offered consent for the phone to be searched for evidence.
It's the phone of Farook's wife, Tashfeen Malik, that authorities have been unable to access. Since her phone was private, she was the only one who had the access key. And since both Farook and Malik were killed in the shootout with police, accessing the information on her phone has proved challenging. To override the phone's built-in security measures, Apple would have to write new code. And this is what concern's the company's CEO.
"Once created," Cook explained, "the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks - from restaurants and banks, to stores and homes."
He has a point.
For now, investigators are limited to the information they've obtained through USB drives, backed up cloud storage, and other sources. But, they're hoping the court can compel Apple to give them access to more. "This is the kind of case where companies like Apple need to demonstrate that they're good corporate citizens, and comply with lawful court orders," said Matt Olsen, who is a part of the legal team at the National Security Agency.
But what do you think? Should Apple comply, and create a software that could compromise the security of all iPhones? Or, should they stick to their guns, and push back against the court order? Let us know in the comments.