Yesterday, a US District Court Judge ordered Apple to help the FBI access files on one of the iPhones of the San Bernardino shooters. Now, Tim Cook has defined Apple’s position — and it plans to fight the ruling as far as it can.
In an open letter published on the Apple website, Cook explains that “the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”
Apple typically cooperates with official requests for data that it has access to. “When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it,” notes Cook in the letter, adding that the company has “no sympathy for terrorists.”
But when it comes to encryption, it has strong views. Cook explains that the FBI wants it “to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation.” That software doesn’t exist in any form, according to Apple—nor is it keen to develop it. He explains why:
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. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, 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. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
Calling the proposal — which would use the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify creating an iOS backdoor — “chilling”, Cook says he can “can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack”.
Apple, then, is “challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country.”
Many others will join the fight. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, has already pledged its allegiance to the cause.
This could prove to be a watershed moment for privacy in the US and beyond. [Apple]