The FBI has won a court order demanding Apple help the bureau in accessing the data on the iPhone 5c of one of the San Bernadino gunmen.
The judge ruled Tuesday that the Cupertino-based company had to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the government in recovering data from the iPhone 5c, including bypassing the auto-erase function and allowing investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords in their attempts to unlock the phone. Apple has five days to respond to the court if it believes that compliance would be “unreasonably burdensome.”
In response, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has published an open letter opposing the court order.
We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. 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 have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.
Specifically, the FBI wants us 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. In the wrong hands, this software – which does not exist today – would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
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.
It should come as no surprise that I strongly, deeply, and vehemently agree with Tim Cook, and I applaud the company for trying to fight this court order every step of the way. It would be great if other technology companies – Microsoft, Google, whatever – publicly join Apple in trying to fight this court order. Strength in numbers.
That being said, it will be in vain. Apple – and thus, all of us – will lose this war. They might win this particular battle, but they won’t win all the battles to come. All it takes is for one important country to demand a backdoor and Apple caving – due to financial pressure, sales stops, etc. – for the whole house of cards to come tumbling down.
This is a hard fight, that we will lose. Get ready.
If we want to crack this problem – where your device isn’t used against you – is there any other way than open hardware, open software, open firmware?
I’m not saying it’s easy, but I don’t see any appraoch that involves closed tech being part of the solution.