Apple opposes court order, says it won't create a backdoor to unlock the iPhone

Apple CEO Tim Cook has posted a public letter in response to a California judge's order to help the Justice Department unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. Cook said that Apple would not comply with the order, stating that it was an "unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers."

The government is asking Apple to bypass the auto-erase function when the passcode is entered more than ten times, giving investigators the ability to submit an unlimited number of passcodes as they try to unlock an iPhone 5c that belonged to Syed Farook.

Cook said that while Apple is willing to assist the FBI in its inquiries by providing "data that's in our possession," it would not participate in creating a backdoor that circumvents the security capabilities of iOS:

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.

Cook said that the FBI's use of the All Writs Act to demand the data sets a "dangerous precedent:"

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by "brute force," trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.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.Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.While we believe the FBI's intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Cook has been a long-term proponent of privacy and encryption, often stating that customer data should not be exploited for commercial gain. Speaking at last year's Champions of Freedom Awards Dinner, Cook said:

We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don't think they're worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.There's another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day — it's the battle over encryption. Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data.We think this is incredibly dangerous. We've been offering encryption tools in our products for years, and we're going to stay on that path. We think it's a critical feature for our customers who want to keep their data secure. For years we've offered encryption services like iMessage and FaceTime because we believe the contents of your text messages and your video chats is none of our business.

Source: Apple (opens in new tab)

Harish Jonnalagadda

The clumsiest man in tech.

  • This is wonderful and proves that Apple genuinely cares about it's customers. It should be an interesting few weeks coming up with news about this.
  • Wow, that's how you see this? Apple is a business, they care about their customer's money! You are so absolutely suckered into the modern marketing scheme to believe this is about the customer. YOU are no more important to Apple than the next person with the same amount of money to offer.
  • they killed 14 people it was TERRORISM and they are dead. Oh and maybe the County also wants to know what the phone was used for besides work.
  • The Government didn't issue a warrant seems to be the issue, and the Judge only issued a writ to "assist" in the investigation which defied is just contempt of court. They need to issue a warrant, and don't understand why one has not been issued since they have more than probable cause in the evidence. Also defying a federal warrant can lead to criminal felony and misdemeanor charges.
  • Well done, Tim. ~TheRealFixxxer
  • Since when did we stop using a capital G in the name God...? Sent from the iMore App
  • Probably around the same times that US dropped propositions for days of the week, but added them for superlatives. And when they stopped knowing the difference between could and couldn't. "In cinemas Friday!" → "In cinemas FROM Friday!"
    "It's not that big of a deal" → "It's not that big a deal"
    "I could care less" → " I COULDN'T care less" So, does it really matter that some fictional, bellicose, characater has a lower case letter for its name?
  • This could be the most intelligent answer to a comment in the history of blogging. Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree! I'd like to write TO Ebuk to say thank you. Sent from the iMore App
  • *Prepositions.
  • Yay way to go Tim Cook. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • This is nuts. Apple is basically supporting radical Islamic terrorist. Well, this is the last apple product that I'll ever buy. #Trump2016 #makeamericagreatagain Sent from the iMore App
  • Do you even read mate? You comment is useless.
    And #Trump2016? I would say, #Goodluckmakingamericangreatagain.
  • No he does not read and yes his comment is useless.
  • Wow really? That's probably the stupidest thing I've read on iMore ever. You think just because Apple won't allow a backdoor to our data that its backing terrorism? That's some Orwellian speech there mate. Doublethink Posted via the iMore App on my iPhone 6s Plus 64 gigabytes
  • As George W said after 11/9 : "You're either with us, or you're with them." I'm with them, in that case.
  • Exactly. Posted via the iMore App on my iPhone 6s Plus 64 gigabytes
  • I done condone Apple supporting a terrorist but I'm not going to stop buying Apple because of it. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is so obviously a planted comment
  • I'll be in the minority here and disagree with Cook. They can help get into one phone without having some backdoor released into the wild. I know, I know. Big brother is coming to get us in the night. Because, you know, out of 7 billion people, it's YOU that they will spend precious man-hours on. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes, but once the backdoor is created, how do you guarantee it is used only to catch criminals? You can't.
  • I agree with decipher's comment but for a different reason. Apple's ethics are indeed laudable and appreciated. We have the best chance to avoid a wild version of a security crippled iOS spreading if Apple cooperates. Once the FBI does it, no more Apple protection. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • The danger is that one day you might be so aggrieved that you begin to protest and agitate for some part of the government to change or end a policy, and they have the tools to shut you up using all sorts of would-be (should-be) private information. And maybe that won't ever be you, and maybe it won't ever be me, but I don't just care about myself.
  • Its not the government that im afraid of, with backdoors in OS encryptionthere is no more SAFE internet.
  • It is not as simple as you think. FBI is not asking for one unlocked phone. They want a "system" which they can use to get the phone unlocked. To quote NYTimes: "Judge Pym ordered Apple to build special software that would essentially act as a skeleton key capable of unlocking the phone". They can later use this key for any purpose later on. Its a slippery slope. No single entity should have absolute power. Tomorrow if someone has some evidence on his/her phone, which he wants to use against someone in the government, whats the guarantee that the tool won't be used over there?. Benjamin Franklin rightly said: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
  • I like that he happened to mention the data mining in all of this. Exactly why there is no Google services or Facebook in my life. "There might be bugs on some of you mugs..." Sent from the iMore App
  • Nothing to hide here on my end. Snoop away. Couldn't care less.
  • Then email the FBI all your passwords and leave the rest of us to make our own decisions.
  • So instead of assisting in a terrorism and murder investigation when ordered by our judicial system, Apple will stick with a marketing ploy that will ultimately end with laws being passed ensuring there is a back door in every device.
  • So not allowing backdoors to begin will push for back doors to be created? Interesting. I suppose if people won't jump a bridge, let's might as well throw them without their will Posted via the iMore App on my iPhone 6s Plus 64 gigabytes
  • Everyone here patting Tim Cook on the back has never had family members killed by terrorists or watched the Twin Towers come falling down. Chances are if a loved one was beheaded by some jackarse you would want him or her brought to justice by any and all means and that would include accessing info on their beloved iphone.
  • Your grief, no matter how severe or sincere, doesn't give the government the right to infringe or endanger on everyone's privacy.
  • Actually I did lose friends and family that day. Its not about the government snooping into my business. Its about the envatable mass hacking that'll happen once said "backdoor" is out in the wild. Unless of course you're willing to allow tax paying dollars to repair the damage done to people's credit.
  • Government (or any system for that matter) should not be run on feelings and emotions. That is what terrorist organizations do. When you say "any and all means", you kind of agree to terrorism. Example, if there is hostage situation, is it okay to shoot innocent hostages as long as the kidnapper/criminal is shot with them?
  • That has nothing to do with the issue, they don't want Anyone's info accessible to anyone but the user. It's commendable to not cave to something they know is wrong. This affects their credibility and could do incredible harm to their business, since the iPhone is their biggest money earner. Some people buy Apple products for the security they are offered. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's going to get uglier before it gets better. In the early '90s, Phil Zimmerman was criminally charged with "exporting munitions without a license" when he released PGP to the world because encryption above a certain level is considered munitions. He only beat the charge because he distributed the method to build it in book form (protected under the 1st amendment) instead of giving away the actual product. Just like building and selling an actual bomb is illegal, it's perfectly legal to publish a book detailing how to build one yourself. Today, Apple is selling/exporting the actual product. So I won't be surprised if similar charges are brought against Apple if they don't compromise anytime soon. Strap in and enjoy the ride... cuz it's only just starting.
  • So what is being asked for by Apple? What would it look like? It seems the FBI is looking for a way to electronically allow touch codes to be input as well as disabling the erase after 10 times feature. Is this a "Software Update" that disables these? Would that involve both a special build of the iOS as well as allow it to be verified on Apple servers? Would this verification requirement help keep the genie in the bottle? I haven't updated a locked phone in a while, does it need to be unlocked prior to installing the update? Does DFU mode delete data? Does it bypass the lock code? Is there anything that the jailbreak community could add to help side load this kind of software that the FBI creates in house? Interesting times... Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree with DenverRalphy in that this will only get uglier before it gets better. Tim has taken a stand to protect the personal data privacy of Apple's consumers and I can understand his fears in that by creating such a tool to access a "backdoor" into someone's phone it has the potential to become a monster of a nightmare if this tool is used for something other than its intended purposes. Who is to say that it won't again be used to "just because" on other users? Who would govern it's use and to what circumstances would such a tool be called into service? And to say that because Tim is taking a stand against doing this means he supports radical Islamic terrorism is asinine.
  • Who says god has to be spelled with capital letter G?. Moron. Sent from the iMore App
  • The rules of the English language say so. When the word god is used as a proper noun, it should be capitalized. "In God we trust." <---- should be capitalized because it's used as a proper noun. "What kind of god would allow famine to occur?" <---- Not capitalized because it's used as a common noun. "...sold off for god knows what..." <---- Improperly not capitalized because the word god is used as a proper noun.
  • Yes EBUK it does Sent from the iMore App
  • When you have top government officials using unsecure personal email accounts for top secret emails. who's to say that this tech wouldn't end in the wild. No thanks.
  • When Jihadi John's buddies come rolling in to Cupertino one day, old Timmy will look back and say" Geez, i had a chance to nip this in the bud but i let er' slip away. Hope you boys like the new digs!!"
  • Think a coder at Apple doesn't already have a backdoor? If some other company was the world's most valuable, people would suspect it already could do things it would publicly deny. So here is Apple, the world's most valuable company, and everybody is drinking the Apple juice. "They would never..."
  • If what is being asked for is an iOS update to circumvent the number of times a passcode can be entered, this isn't going to work in any case....
    They want to unlock a password protected to do so they are asking for an iOS update to allow it....but to install the update they need to unlock the iPhone. It can't work that way.
  • Tim Cook should be in jail for not complying with a judges order.
    If it was one of us that did not comply we would be in jail held in contempt.
    Apple is not above the law. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple is looking out for the customer because it's wonderful for us, but more importantly it affects their bottom line: happy customers equals more business. Sent from the iMore App