In a recent open letter to their customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded defensively to the FBI’s demand that the company provide the government with assistance in hacking an iPhone. Cook’s letter underscores the importance of data protection and privacy for its customers and warns of the implications that may result if the company complies with the FBI’s order.
The iPhone under investigation belonged to one of the attackers in the San Bernardino, CA, shooting last December, in which 14 people were killed. Apple says it has complied with all FBI’s requests for data in their possession during the investigation, but that the government’s demand for “a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features” would “undermine decades of security advancements that protect [customers].”
Since its 2014 iOS 8 update, Apple devices have been built with default encryption that ensures a user’s personal data cannot be accessed by any third party—including by Apple itself—without the user’s password key. The FBI seeks to skip over these customer data protection controls with Apple’s help, but Cook’s letter reveals in no uncertain terms that the company would challenge any court order requiring it to build a “backdoor” into the iPhone.
“Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” Cook said. “In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks—from restaurants and banks to stores and homes.”
Other Silicon Valley tech companies have voiced vehement support for Apple’s position on data protection for its customers. According to the Financial Times, company leaders from both Google and WhatsApp have applauded Cook’s stance on the issue. Now it’s up to the federal courts to respond, as American citizens watch the fight over encryption, information security, and data protection legislation unfold over the coming months.