Apple opposes court order to break into killer's iPhone

  • 18/02/2016
Mug shot of Syed Rizwan Farook
Mug shot of Syed Rizwan Farook

A US judge has mandated Apple to decrypt a mobile phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers, but Apple says it plans to fight the order.

Federal investigators still haven't figured out a way to unlock the iPhone of Syed Farook, the man who carried out the deadly San Bernardino terror attack that killed 14 people.

"It's been over two months now, we're still working on it," says FBI Director James Comey.

The phone may have the auto-erase feature enabled which would wipe the data after too many failed password attempts.

Now, a federal US judge has ruled that Apple must find a way to disable the function on Farook's phone, which would enable the FBI to submit unlimited passcodes to unlock it.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says the order is an "unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers."

The tech giant has published an open letter to its customers, outlining their concerns with the judge's order.

"Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us," says the statement from Apple.

"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."

Apple also made it clear in its letter that they "were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism" and had complied with "valid subpoenas and search warrants", even offering up their own engineers to advise the FBI on the investigation.

However, they made it clear that the latest court order is not something that the company would consider.

"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," the letter read.

"But now the US 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.

"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 US government." 

Alan Cohn, former Assistant Secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, says this case is escalating the debate about privacy versus security -- and it could be headed to the US Supreme Court.

"Right now, both parties have dug in and both parties have an incentive to bring this case forward," says Mr Cohn.

Apple has five days to appeal the judge's ruling.

CBS / Newshub.