Apple to US govt: Withdraw demand for iPhone unlocking, we all need to talk first

The battle between Apple and the US Justice Department continues, as the company still refuses to help the feds access the contents of a PIN-locked iPhone used by gunman Syed Farook in the way described in the court order.

To Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, that would be tantamount of setting up a backdoor into the devices.

iPhone unlocking

Apple still hasn’t filed legal arguments against the order – by the magistrate’s decision, it has until Friday to do so – but the DoJ has, nevertheless, filed a motion that tries to preemptively shoot down all of Apple’s potential arguments and asks the court to compel Apple to comply to the original order.

In it, the DoJ clams that Apple is capable of doing what is asked of them, and that the company’s current refusal to comply with the court’s order “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”

The motion explains why the DoJ’s invocation of the All Writs Act in this case is fitting, and why the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is inapplicable to the dispute.

In the meantime, and in the midst of a heated public debate regarding whether Apple should be forced to comply with the order or not, the company confirmed that it is technically possible for them to do what the DoJ asks, but that being forced to do so would set a dangerous precedent.

“Should the government be allowed to order us to create other capabilities for surveillance purposes, such as recording conversations or location tracking?” the company asked.

Also, they noted that the creation of the weakened OS required by the authorities could end up in it being widely used.

“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks. Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals,” they pointed out, and said that they believe that the only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.

The company said that they have done everything they could to help law enforcement in this case – gave advice, handed over the iPhone’s backup, etc.

“We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedoms,” they concluded, and added that they would gladly participate in such an effort.

This last statement came days after (and was perhaps inspired by) the House Energy and Commerce Committee extending an invite to FBI Director James Comey and Apple CEO Tim Cook. They asked them to appear before them to discuss the privacy and national security issues presented by the ongoing debate related to encryption technologies.