Apple CEO Tim Cook challenges FBI demands to bypass security on iPhone linked to San Bernardino


Apple CEO Tim Cook Wednesday released an open letter to customers signifying his intent to challenge a court order for the company to bypass security on an iPhone linked to the December attacks in San Bernardino.

The order could start a legal battle in a long-simmering showdown between Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. over the use of encryption.

Cook in his letter decried the "dangerous precedent" the FBI was asking Apple to set by creating a special operating system to install on the iPhone 5C the agency found during its investigation of the attacks.

Currently, the phone in question is protected by certain password protections built into iOS. Passwords must be input by hand and every incorrect guess adds a delay before you can try again. Further, there is a feature on iPhones that, if enabled, could delete all information stored on the device after 10 incorrect guesses.

The Tuesday order from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said that Apple must help the FBI bypass each of those features, meaning the agency wants to input password guesses digitally without the threat of data deletion. The court order suggests that the software used to execute such a circumvention of the security features could be developed to only work on the iPhone in the investigation, though Cook disagreed.

"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 backdoor," Cook said. "And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."

Cook wrote that such a tool would be a "master key" for all Apple devices, including business and personal accounts. He further pointed out that the FBI's proposal to extend its authority under the All Writs Act of 1789, rather than looking to Congress for a clear legislative directive, could open any device developed by any company to the agency.

It's not yet clear what Apple plans to do to oppose the ruling, though the order offered a five-day period for the company to apply for relief if it found the order "unreasonably burdensome." It's similarly unclear what actions the government could take against Apple if it doesn't comply.

For more:
- read the open letter from Tim Cook
- read the court order to Apple

Related Articles:
Tech's future at stake in 2016 presidential election, experts say
For Apple in the enterprise, it's all about partnerships, Cook said
Senior federal officials set to discuss terrorism countermeasures with tech CEOs

Filed Under