Apple Will Resist Fed Order to Hack San Bernardino Terrorist Phone

The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook said the company will fight a federal order to help law enforcement break into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists. The CEO said the move would create a backdoor that could be used on other users' devices.

Cook’s ferocious response, posted early Wednesday on the company’s website, came after an order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym that Apple Inc. help the Obama administration break into an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in the December attack.

Cook said “this moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.” He said the backdoor is like a “master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks.”

“In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” Cook wrote. “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 back door. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Apple was not allowed to participate in the hearing that resulted in the order.

The ruling by [Magistrate Judge Sheri] Pym, a former federal prosecutor, requires Apple to supply highly specialized software the FBI can load onto the county-owned work iPhone to bypass a self-destruct feature, which erases the phone’s data after too many unsuccessful attempts to unlock it. The FBI wants to be able to try different combinations in rapid sequence until it finds the right one.

 The iPhone in question is the work phone of San Bernardino terrorist Farook. He was not carrying it at the time of the attack.

The phone was running the newest version of Apple’s iPhone operating system, which requires a passcode and cannot be accessed by Apple, unlike earlier operating systems or older phone models. San Bernardino County provided Farook with an iPhone configured to erase data after 10 consecutive unsuccessful unlocking attempts. The FBI said that feature appeared to be active on Farook’s iPhone as of the last time he performed a backup.

 Just last week, FBI Director James Comey told Congress that encypted electronic devices are a serious problem for law enforcement who “find a device that can’t be opened even when a judge says there’s probable cause to open it.”

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