Two days after Apple was ordered by a US court to help FBI investigators unlock the iPhone of Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik who together killed 14 people at a Christmas party at the end of last year and after the emergence of a clear split amongst Americans between supporters of phone users’ privacy and supporters of national security, the White House intervened and defended privacy. However, it supported the decision to order Apple to reveal Farook’s passcode for his phone.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asked Apple to help penetrate the data on Farook’s phone and that this request is a specific one. He added that “They are not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to one of their products. They’re simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device.”
During another televised debate between Republican candidates for the presidency yesterday, all candidates criticized Apple. The Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticised Apple’s rejection of the court’s ruling. In congress, a large number of members supported the government. However, some Democrats had reservations.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Senator Richard Burr who is a north Carolina Republican said that “Court orders are not optional and Apple should comply”. On the other hand, Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon) who is a member of the committee said that any company must obey any injunction as much as it can. But “we should not put pressure on the company to harm its customers”.
On the day that the federal court order to disclose the encryption was issued in the state of California on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook refused to comply with the order because the company is “unable to obtain the passcodes” of either Farook or his wife. He also posted a strongly worded open letter to Apple customers on the Apple website saying that “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.”
He added “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.”