NEW YORK (AA) — Apple is refusing an FBI request to hack an iPhone believed to have information regarding a terror attack in California last December.
“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 CEO Tim Cook wrote in a letter to customers.
The FBI asked the technology giant to build a new iPhone operating system that would act as a backdoor and would bypass all the security measures of the handset, according to Cook.
“In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession … and while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control,” he said.
The phone under scrutiny is believed to have belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, the deceased suspect in the San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 victims.
The head of the FBI told lawmakers last week that the 10-digit-code of the phone in question could not be decrypted.
“We have no sympathy for terrorists,” Cook said, adding that the company has complied with all subpoenas and warrants in the case.
But Cook stressed that the FBI’s latest request is “an overreach” that has wide-ranging implications.
“Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data. Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk,” he said.
The letter released Wednesday earned approval among many tech industry insiders and consumer privacy advocates.
But the White House on Wednesday lent its support to the FBI’s request, saying that the Bureau is not seeking a “backdoor” to the iPhone.
“They’re simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device,” a spokesman told reporters.
Edward Snowden, the contractor who revealed a mass surveillance system executed by the National Security Agency, applauded Cook’s strong opposition to the FBI’s order.
“The FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around,” Snowden tweeted.
Activists are also planning mass rallies at Apple Store locations across the country to show support for the company’s stance against encryption backdoors.
Encryption activist organization Fight for the Future is coordinating protests for next week.
“Governments have been frothing at the mouth hoping for an opportunity to pressure companies like Apple into building backdoors into their products to enable more sweeping surveillance,” according to Evan Greer, the group’s campaign director.
“It’s shameful that they’re exploiting the tragedy in San Bernardino to push that agenda. Security experts agree that any weakening or circumvention of security features on a phone puts everyone in danger,” he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it would support Apple’s legal fight against the court order.
Beyond weakening encryption in the U.S., the ACLU is also worried about international ramifications.
“The government’s request also risks setting a dangerous precedent,” said staff attorney Alex Abdo. “If the FBI can force Apple to hack into its customers’ devices, then so too can every repressive regime in the rest of the world. Apple deserves praise for standing up for its right to offer secure devices to all of its customers,” he said.
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