Apple, a technology company in Silicon Valley, on Wednesday opposed a judge's order to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) access the phone of a terrorist killer.
Timothy Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, called the order by Judge Sheri Pym, of the U.S. District Court, Central California, "an unprecedented step" threatening the security of Apple customers. "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," said Cook in a statement.
The ruling by Pym was in response to request by federal prosecutors investigating the attack by Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik on Dec. 2 last year in San Bernardino, California. The couple shot dead 14 people at a holiday luncheon before both were killed by police. Investigators, already accessible to phone call info from a mobile service carrier, told Pym that without passcode, they were unable to look into an iPhone 5c used by Farook. The smartphone was a work phone owned by San Bernardino County, where Farook worked at the public health department.
It has been increasingly a standard procedure for U.S. law enforcement to look into suspects' electronic devices including personal computers and smartphones and social network postings, especially in terror-related cases.
Pym ordered Apple, the maker of iPhone, to provide specialized software designed to bypass a security feature that erases data in the device after 10 unsuccessful unlocking attempts, so that the FBI would be able to hack into the phone. In his response, Cook said "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," he alleged, adding that "in the wrong hands, this software - which does not exist today - would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession." In an apparent effort to mobilize public support, he warned that "compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk."
However, a White House spokesman tried to downplay the dispute at a briefing Wednesday and said the government's request was about a single device.
Cook disagreed, arguing that once created, the technique could be used on any number of devices. "In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks."
"Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge." About the San Bernardino attack, Cook said the FBI asked for help from Apple days later and the company has provided data in its possession.