Apple’s Tim Cook doubles down, won’t comply with order to help FBI hack into iPhone

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a high-profile champion of encryption — now his company is embroiled in what could be a defining case in the battle over privacy vs. national security.

In a letter published on the company website Tuesday night, Cook said Apple is opposing a magistrate court judge’s Tuesday order to help the government hack into the encrypted iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the killers in a December attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people. Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik — who reportedly had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State — later died in a shootout with the police.

Farook’s phone reportedly was running the newest version of Apple’s iOS, which can’t be unlocked without a passcode. Now the FBI wants Apple to provide it with software that will keep the agency from getting locked out of Farook’s iPhone if it enters the wrong passcode too many times.

“The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create,” Cook says in his letter. “They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

Talk about “backdoors” has been on the rise since the 2013 revelations of mass spying by U.S. and other governments, aided by electronic communications, the Internet and technology made by Silicon Valley companies. Apple, Google, Facebook and others have denied providing backdoors to their users’ personal information.

In 2014, Apple and then Google enabled encryption by default on iPhones and Android phones. This has prompted complaints from people such as FBI Director James Comey, who say the rise in encryption is a hindrance to criminal and terrorist investigations. Recently, though, Comey has tried to strike a more conciliatory tone, saying that the government doesn’t want backdoors, it wants companies to comply with a judge’s order when needed.

In his letter, Cook repeats his longstanding argument that building technology to circumvent the encryption on iPhones would be a threat to privacy and security.

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.

How might Apple’s stance be received by the public?

Note that Cook didn’t say Apple couldn’t build the technology to help the government — at least one security firm claims it is technically possible — he’s saying it won’t.

Recently, a Forrester analyst said he thought any company that stands up to the government on privacy would be seen as heroic.

A digital rights advocacy group, Fight for the Future, on Wednesday called for protests outside Apple stores throughout the country on Feb. 23 “to demand that the U.S. government drop its dangerous request.”

Cook says in the letter that Apple is fighting “what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government,” but he also makes sure to include: “We have no sympathy for terrorists.”

But Apple is “risking a lot given the sensitivity of the San Bernardino case,” said Darren R. Hayes, assistant professor and director of cybersecurity at Seidenberg School of CSIS at Pace University in New York. “It risks the tide of public opinion swaying.”

In a phone interview with SiliconBeat, Hayes said Apple’s stand might also push Congress to “change legislation to push companies to develop technologies to facilitate” law enforcement investigations.

Hayes also said he found it interesting that Apple is making this strong stand now considering “what law enforcement has been asking for is for the company to revert back to key management” — in other words, to go back to the time a couple of years ago when Apple could comply with such requests to unlock phones.

The ACLU said this morning it would support Apple’s position. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based Internet rights advocacy group, also said it plans to file an amicus brief to support Apple’s position.

“Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone,” Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and general counsel for the EFF, writes in a post on the group’s website. “And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security.”

 

 

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook in March 2015. (Associated Press)

 

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  • foroa

    apple leads the world in protecting people’s right to privacy and this is a demonstration of apple’s commitment to this very essential and sacred right.

    • Tim

      I bet if your family member was gunned down by this pair you would feel differently about what “sacred rights” are.

      • Mondo Mutiny

        exactly……..

      • Mike Smith

        Yes, and if my family member was gunned down by this pair, I would feel like executing them myself. My feelings don’t define right from wrong.

      • manodenada

        so laws only apply up to a certain point, then vindication takes over?

  • I stand with Apple.

  • pgm554

    Just give it to Samsung to unlock.
    They’ve done a good job of backwards engineering in the past of Apple products ,so why not now?

  • Arrowhead

    Bye, Apple. Regular customer who will now never buy another product of yours. It’s one thing to not allow back doors for any snooping governmental agency, quite another to inhibit the investigation of known terrorists and murderers.

    • davidtrish

      ……tomorrow it’s your private home safe because the government has decided they REALLY need access to it.

      • 5150

        …..only if you’ve committed a crime, or they have probable cause that you’ve commit a crime. They (the Govt.) have to obtained a search warrant to go into that home, and they can only look for items that’s on the search warrant. Anything they find that is not on the search warrant, will be inadmissible in court. Don’t be a fool.

        • Alan

          True. But opening up a backdoor allows anyone to break in, no warrant required. It is a hacker field day.

    • Myron Marvin

      As an cyber expert and ethical hacker I completely stand behind Apple on their stance. Arrowhead doesn’t seem to understand that this is a very slippery slope since the bad guys will follow the good guys right behind them.

      Look the problems that were caused by a back door put into Juniper’s VPN appliances, allegedly by the NSA. http://www.wired.com/2015/12/researchers-solve-the-juniper-mystery-and-they-say-its-partially-the-nsas-fault/

    • Well, apparently you’ve nothing to hide, right?

      What’s the quote about people who live in glass houses? But I think in this case it has more to do with transparency, not fragility.

      Give me your address so I can rifle through your stuff. I heard you were involved in some illegal activities and you need to prove that you weren’t. Although I’m making the claim, that burden is on YOU. How do you like them apples?

      • Arrowhead

        Reading comprehension not your strong point, eh? I specifically state my agreement on NOT allowing sneaky back doors for anyone to peek through like Juniper and others did. It’s quite a different issue in supporting the unlocking off one specific phone of known murderers.

        • lori_s

          But they are not asking the to just access this phone, they are asking them to create an operating system that would allow them (or anyone) to break into any phone

        • manodenada

          speaking of reading comprehension, did you catch the part where the government is asking Apple to create software that could be used to hack any iPhone?

  • Mondo Mutiny

    Protecting the rights and privacy of law abiding citizens is one thing. Protecting the privacy of terrorists is NOT the same. This is why our country is so divided. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle but everyone has to claim right or left. Black or white. Terrorists do not have the right to privacy. Spare me the slippery slope argument. I hope Apple loses this fight.

    • That IS a slippery slope fallacy. The term “terrorist” is subjective (based on who is in office), and our government is notorious for changing definitions of words to suit their tastes (look at how they redefined the term torture years ago; why don’t you step right up and let me waterboard you, since it’s no longer torture, right?).

      Pretty soon it’ll be used to uncover whistleblowers, activists, journalists, and anyone else they decide can semantically be scooped up under the(ir) definition of “terrorist.”

      • Mondo Mutiny

        Right on, empower and protect people who stock up with enough weapons and ammo to wipe out a village and kill innocent people. “Pretty soon it’ll be used to uncover whistleblowers, activists, journalists”. That is absolutely not true and typical liberal/privacy advocate talk.

        • manodenada

          Empower and protect?? Really please for the sake of us all Google “straw man argument”…

          • Mondo Mutiny

            I use Google for a lot, but didn’t need it to give me the definition of “straw man argument” but thank you.

          • manodenada

            well of course not, you use it so well and all…

      • Arrowhead

        Oh sorry, I must have missed the fact that those people killed in San Bernadino were murdered by whistle blowers. My bad.

        • manodenada

          the fact that you missed is that government isn’t simply requesting access to that particular phone; the government is requesting that Apple create software that could be used on any iPhone.

          • Greg

            That is not what I heard on the news today. I heard they only want access to that one shooter’s phone.

          • manodenada

            That’s definitely not what Tim Cook said in his release…

          • Alan

            In order to access that one phone, Apple must create and give to the feds a tool that can then be used to unlock any iphone of similar design. Worse, the legal precedent would then allow the government to force Apple (and others) to produce such back doors for other phones.

    • Speakerofthe House

      The reason our country is so divided has zero to do with privacy laws and terrorists, and has much more to do with intrusive government, the jack-booted enforcers, and the people who support them. The government, along with the jack-booters, sees a conspiracy behind every tree, and a terrorist behind every face. As you said, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and allowing the government free access to everything isn’t in the middle. However, as I previously posted, that is a government entity phone. I believe ALL government entity phones should be open and the contents shared with their employers, the taxpaying public.

      • Mondo Mutiny

        FWIW, you misinterpreted my comment. The country is divided because we chose left or right when reality and sanity is in the middle.

    • Mike Smith

      “Protecting the privacy of terrorists is NOT the same.”

      But, in fact, it is exactly the same.

      • Mondo Mutiny

        I know that I shouldn’t bite, but I am going to. How is protecting the rights of terrorists is the same as protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens?

        • Alan

          Because once the backdoor is created then everyone is at risk, terrorists and law-abiding citizens. Perhaps you have deluded yourself into thinking that only “good guys” will get access to the back door?

          • Mondo Mutiny

            No point having a conversation with terror supporters. I guess we will have to see what the courts decide.

          • Alan

            Yep. The founders of our country would have been “terror supporters” by any definition that the British would have cared to use.

          • Mondo Mutiny

            So now the founders of this country are the same and the San Bernardino terrorists. Nice.

          • Alan

            Might want to read up on history. It isn’t all black hats and white hats.

          • Mondo Mutiny

            Thank you but I have a very educated understanding of American history. I get your angle. To the American revolutionaries were considered “terrorists” by the English Monarchy. Your analogy with present day terrorists……ouch. Keep building that wall Alan and protect yourself from the evil government. They are coming to get you!

          • Alan

            I’m actually rather comfortable with our current government. On the other hand, my family survived both the Nazis and then the Russians. You never know when repression will rear it’s ugly head. Protection from arbitrary government spying is fundamental. In addition to official spying, this particular request would also open the door to criminal hacking.

          • Mondo Mutiny

            I totally get that and respect the hell that your family had to deal with but be 100% honest, do you truly believe that in this day and age, a tyrannical government can rise in the US?

          • Alan

            Once the genie is out of the bottle you cannot *ever* put it back in.

          • Mondo Mutiny

            fair enough. good discussion. I don’t mind disagreeing with intelligent people.

          • Arrowhead

            Yes.

          • manodenada

            do you honestly believe one couldn’t? because that would put you way out of step with the founders of our country for example…

          • Mondo Mutiny

            Ok now I will admit that I used Google for this because I didn’t know the exact number. The population of the colonies during the revolutionary way was less than 3 million (many of whom didn’t even want Washington and company making waves with the crowd). Today we are over 320 million. Yes, I honestly believe that a tyrannical government cannot arise over that many (many armed) people in 2016. A civil war would erupt before you had to worry about your precious iphone.

          • manodenada

            the population of Germany in 1931 was approximately 73 million; but yea probably too many reasonable, intelligent, industrious people to allow a tyrannical government to take over.

            wait I thought that the armed people stockpiling weapons was your reason for wanting Apple to create software that can hack any iPhone though?

          • Mondo Mutiny

            “wait I thought that the armed people stockpiling weapons was your reason for wanting Apple to create software that can hack any iPhone though” Sorry, buddy. Second amendment supporter here. It’s the whole killing innocent people just going about their day that I have a problem with.

          • manodenada

            Yea me too, generally speaking, but why would you then write, “right on, empower and protect people who stock up with enough weapons and ammo to wipe out a village and kill innocent people…”?

          • Mondo Mutiny

            I was referring explicitly to San Bernardino shooters.

          • manodenada

            sure, and nasty folk we’d both agree, but the problem legally is that “terrorism” is a methodology not an ideology. Until the act was committed (or planned) they had the same right to stockpile weapons that you or I do…

          • Mike Smith

            The ruling authority at the time (i.e. King of England) thought so.

          • manodenada
          • manodenada

            what you mean is there’s no point in having an argument with someone who attacks the straw man and not the actual assertion. no one is supporting terrorists, but there is a legitimate concern that such a backdoor could and would be abused.

          • Mondo Mutiny

            I do not claim to misunderstand that argument. My point is that it aids and protects terrorists. If you say, “I support Apple even though they are protecting the terrorists because there is a legitimate concern that such a backdoor could and would be abused”, I would respect your standpoint a little more.

          • manodenada

            but they’re not protecting the terrorists they’re protecting all users of their platform, and many of us chose Apple specifically or partially because of their commitment to user privacy.

            also those two particular terrorists are very much dead; no amount of protection can reverse that…

          • Mondo Mutiny

            yes they are dead, but what if there are leads on that phone to the people/groups who empowered them? What if there is information to help us avoid similar acts in the future.

            Ken – you are interrupting an intelligent debate with that nonsense. Please go back to sleep.

          • manodenada

            then they should be seeking legally to open that phone only and not with a backdoor on iOS; I think a lot of people would be ok with that, what we don’t want is for the government (or Apple or anybody) to have that access built into the software.

          • Ken

            So what you’re saying is that law enforcement should have a key to your home and the code to your security system (if you have one) so they can come in and search your house at any time in case you are ever suspected of committing a crime.

        • Mike Smith

          Who defines “terrorist”? What about suspected terrorists? Can the definition of terrorist be changed (hint: yes, whenever convenient)?

  • Speakerofthe House

    That is a government entity owned phone. I believe ALL government entity
    owned phones should be opened and the contents shared with their employers, the
    taxpaying public.

    • lori_s

      There are ways for workplaces to assure that they have access to devices that they give to their employees, that San Bernardino County didn’t take those steps beforehand is their own fault, and not one which Apple should be compelled to fix at the cost of security for everyone who owns an iPhone

  • Mike Smith

    I am certainly not a Tim Cook worshiper but, in this case, he is absolutely correct on all points. Once a backdoor is created, you can be certain of two things:

    1. It will be abused by government.
    2. It will fall into the hands of non-government bad actors.

    I guarantee it!

    Now the outcome is in the hands of the courts. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up.

    • a reader

      Agreed. If the Govt really needs to get in, let the issue be decided by the legislative process instead of a Court — that way, hopefully, members of Congress will reflect the opinion of their respective districts/States.

      • Mike Smith

        At this point, I wouldn’t trust Congress to legislate the regulations governing dog catchers!

  • manodenada

    How can the government mandate that Apple create a software tool that doesn’t currently exist? Is there precedence for such a request?

    • Mike Smith

      The government frequently mandates that features be added to products. Think safety features on automobiles.

      Also, some of us are old enough to remember when Bill Clinton tried to take us down the same road with the Clipper Chip. Fortunately, that was defeated.

      • manodenada

        according to the request however the government didn’t ask for a feature to existing software, the government requested new software altogether (at least in my understanding). yea the clipper chip was a terrible idea…

        • Mike Smith

          This is just semantics.

          Actually, I think what the government really wants is simply a version of iOS with one feature removed or disabled. That is, the feature which will slow the rate at which you can try different passwords and erase the phone after too many attempts.

          This will enable them to launch a brute force attack on the passcode.

    • alrui

      The gubment needs to develop its own tool as theyre the ones who want to break the encryption!

  • Mike Smith

    Since the government believe iPhones are being abused by terrorists, I think perhaps our best option is to require background checks on all prospective iPhone purchasers. That way we can prevent the problem by keeping iPhones out of the hands of terrorists in the first place. And it’s worked so well with other dangerous devices 🙂

    • sd

      Show of hands of anyone who believes the Second Amendment proscribes background checks, etc. for all Americans? Show of hands or anyone who believes that various other Amendments proscribe security back doors? The second group should be just as large as the first.

      Second Amendment supporters, NOW is the time to rally behind companies like Apple willing to preserve your privacy. If the government can mandate a way to intervene with the privacy of a smartphone, they certainly can mandate intervention for your guns. Apparently the presence of Amendments regarding either of these items does not matter to the Feds.

    • KeynesIsDead

      No,we must go beyond background checks. We must do a forced buy back all iPhones (the current euphemism for confiscation) and ban them forevermore.

  • Easy Ed

    I trust Apple more than I trust the government. There is zero trust of this administration

    and the people in it.

  • Easy Ed

    Another approach: Zero privacy rights for gang members, cartel members, felons, ex felons, incarcerated and terrorist. All the government needs to do is pass a law that says none of the above will have any rights of privacy. I trust Apple more than I trust the government and this administration and everyone in it deserves zero trust.

  • Luxman

    What if the stakes are much higher? What if a locked iPhone contains a location of nuclear bomb in NYC that will go off in next few hours to kill millions of people? What if a locked iPhone contains location of dozens of kidnapped children who will die if not found soon? What if a locked phone can prevent a terrorist attack plot on Apple HQ to kill hundreds including Tim himself? Will Apple still insist protecting the privacy of the criminal who owned the phones? Good luck with that….

    • Alan

      These are the very same arguments that were used to justify torture. And that torture proved to be useless for gathering timely data. Furthermore it tainted any information gained in such a way that it has permanently damaged the chances of convicting the very people we are sure committed the crimes.

      • Luxman

        I don’t approve torture either and agree that any information extracted from torture may not be reliable. Anyway, if someone does horrible crimes, police and FBI will raid their home with a warrant to do full search and will take away any evidences they can find. So why is it so different about hacking into criminal’s phone data? If I’m the criminal, I’ll be more pissed about my home being ransacked than my phone being hacked…

        • Alan

          Networked data devices and physical objects are quite different. By opening up a back door to people’s devices we allow everyone’s data to be remotely accessed, and not just by good guys bearing a warrant. Preventing these privacy breaches is the whole point of data security. There is no middle ground.

          • alrui

            Thank you! This fear mongering as an excuse to no privacy for us citizens means the terrorists have WON!

      • KeynesIsDead

        Rather think killing the SOBs satisfies the soul much more than convicting them of actions that were not crimes but acts of war. It is a flacidity, oops, fallacy, of the left that terrorists are bad guys on steroids not illegal combatants at war with the U.S. As for the argument that torture yields no useful information; is that not a tortured argument? Follow the logic of it. If true, why even bother to ask the enemy any questions? Just set him up at the Taj Mahal and bring on the halal meals. This is not to endorse water-boarding, loud bad music, or any other harsh technique (although why anyone whose gone to college would be squeamish about sleep deprivation is beyond comprehension)–although the thing where they put you in cushions, hang the contraption from the ceiling then swing you around looks like a lot of fun ,sure to be hit at a carnival–we used to get information. None of which, again not endorsing, fit the definition of torture. The plain fact is, enemy combatants have useful information. It is stupid beyond stupid to argue otherwise. Information about imminent attacks is probably, for the most part, useless as, most likely, jeesh how one must qualify these statements, all the other baddies on the loose know who’s been compromised. But, there is other information the enemy may possess that is useful. How to extract it? It would amaze most people to see what a skilled interrogator can get out of a subject using only their words. Our problem is that we allowed Congress and in particular the Church Commission to destroy the agencies that knew how to conduct real interrogations without resorting to the sorts of tactics only the weak of mind use. There are people who know how to interrogate but Congress, generals, and other people in power don’t like them because, well, they are really kind of scary. And they don’t need waterboards. Just a room. And a chair. And a couple of hours.

  • Chuckle

    People need to get over themselves. The government doesn’t give a crap about the average joe or janes conversations or the contents of their phones. This is a greater good issue. Like it or not bad people use apple products and there should be a way for the authorities to access their phones. I get not wanting a “back door” but hopefully they will still cooperate with supeonas. Nobody cares about the naked selfies on your phones people.

  • ErgoSum

    The only backdoor here is the one that Apple already put in – they can push updates to iPhones that affect basic things like the security lockout/wipe without a user’s being able to prevent it.

    The fact that the FBI is asking them to use it so they can get into this particular phone is secondary – if you want to be upset about something be upset at Apple’s not permitting their users to lock down their phones.

    Even if Apple doesn’t give this tool to the FBI this time, they retain the ability to build this tool any time they want.

    It’s quite disingenuous of Mr. Cook to blame the FBI for asking for a backdoor when it’s his company that built the product with this “feature” to begin with.

    Also, Apple should have no problem making a fix that would only affect this one phone – and they could quickly invalidate this patch by pushing a subsequent upgrade that would prevent this patch from being installed on any other phones, since the security model they’ve built doesn’t allow downgrades.

    It’s disappointing to see Apple distort the facts – why don’t they just come straight out and make the point that they disagree with setting the legal precedent? That seems to be the real issue here – the rest is just half-truths and excuses.

  • Luxman

    I understand the potential implication of having a technology to hack a locked iPhone. However let’s face it, most 99.999% iPhone users DON’T really have any critical information that government bothers to hack into. Who cares about your thousands of videos, photos and social media stuffs? Government is targeting only .001% users that can threaten safety of our society and all these misinformed people are raising hell.

    I laugh at the potential misuse of this technology by foreign governments. Those oppressive governments such as China, North Korea and all the axis-of-evil countries don’t need this technology. They’ll simply demand the pass code from you or they’ll prison you or cut off your fingers of something…

  • KeynesIsDead

    What a ridiculous, paranoia infused letter.

    “The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

    It is refreshing to know that not only can a homosexual become CEO of a great company but also survivalists and conspiracy theorists, and sometimes, as in the case of Cook, all three. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE. mwa-ha-ha.

  • KeynesIsDead

    One must love the irony of the following:

    “For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.”

    But irony tends to be lost on liberals, especially the gun-control zealots.

  • KeynesIsDead

    It is truly unbelievable anyone is defending this sanctimonious prat who uses the next best thing to slave labor and kowtows to the Chinese so he can sell his precious iPhones in China. Hypocrisy, thy name is Cook.

 
 
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