tim cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook

A more than 200-year-old act could force Apple to create technology that would break the security of its products by building a backdoor into a device.

But Apple is saying no, as the company should. 

A federal court on Tuesday issued the order for Apple to assist the FBI by creating the technology to help unlock the iPhone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., in December, Syed Farook, to determine whether he and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, directly planned the shooting with the Islamic State.

Basically, the government wants Apple to disable the feature that clears an iPhone’s data if the wrong passcode is typed 10 times, allowing government officials to try as many times as they needed to unlock the phone without worrying about erasing the desired information. The act permitting the government to do this, the All Writs Act of 1789, allows federal courts to “issue writs, or court orders, that require third parties to assist in the execution of another court order, like a search warrant,” according to The Verge.

Apple on Wednesday released a statement to its customers saying it’s worried this is the situation that could set the precedence for future requests from the government and that it's going to fight back. 

“In today’s digital world, the ‘key’ to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, wrote in the statement.

This is a pretty terrifying notion.

It’s not that Apple doesn’t believe the FBI has good intentions or that Apple doesn’t want to help the FBI catch the bad guys.

It’s that Apple doesn’t want to open Pandora’s Box into a world where the government can tap into any technology to get whatever it wants.

This pushes forward the conversation: should there be more law regulating the government’s authority in our technological lifelines?

This issue first came to light when Edward Snowden shared with the country the extent to which phone and tech companies were allowing the federal government to spy on data that was transmitted through their networks.

“The @FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on #Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around,” Snowden, who is in Russia avoiding persecution from the U.S. government, tweeted.

Since Snowden’s whistleblow, Twitter, Facebook and Apple said they would not create backdoors to private data.

It is understandable the FBI would make such a request. It is seeking valuable information in an attempt to further the fight against ISIS.

But Apple has the right to defend its stance in fulfilling its duty in protecting customers’ privacy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2014 in response to the All Writs Act argued that "the government cannot use an authority like the All Writs Act to force a company to backdoor its product. Compelling a company to re-engineer a product designed to provide robust encryption is the definition of unreasonably burdensome because it undermines the basic purpose of the product."

(1) comment

Jonathan Scharf

I personally see this as one of the last and strangest stands for privacy. If there's a warrant then the police can already search your house, your computer, your bank and phone records, basically anything they believe has evidence on it and no one says anything. They want into a dead terrorist's phone and suddenly we're on the brink of an Orwellian dystopia.

What I find stranger still is that effectively 100% of people who want illicit access to your phone can get it so much easier than by brute forcing the password. Trick you into installing a virus, or just waiting until you have it out and grabbing the unlocked phone from of your hand, for instance.

Fundamentally the second prospect is sufficiently realistic for me that I already keep all sensitive information tucked away elsewhere, so I say that if the government wants access to the veritable hoard of cat pictures on my phone then I'll give them the guided tour.

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