Apple's Tim Cook strikes a blow for security, privacy

February 17, 2016 // 2:39 p.m.

Tags: #apple #back-door #backdoor #fbi #government #ios #law-enforcement #privacy #security #terror #terrorism #tim-cook #us-government

Apple's Tim Cook has hit back at a request from the US government to create a back-door in the cryptography used in its iOS platform, calling the FBI's request 'a dangerous precedent.'

The US government, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been working with Apple to access files stored on the iPhone of a San Bernardino terror suspect. While Apple has complied, the FBI has further requested that the company build a back-door into iOS that would allow the agency to bypass its encryption - something Tim Cook has stated would be a 'threat to data security' and 'a dangerous precedent.'

'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 back-door to the iPhone,' explained Cook in an open letter to customers. '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 back-door. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control. The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, 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 — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.'

The FBI, naturally, is unimpressed with Apple's reluctance to give it blanket access to all iOS users' data, and has proposed legal action against the company under the All Writs Act of 1789 - clearly an up-to-date piece of legislation when it comes to data security and cryptography. 'The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data,' Cook warned. 'The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.'

Cook has announced that his company is to challenge the FBI's demands 'in the face of what we see as an overreach by the US government.' Thus far, the FBI has not responded to Cook's very public statement.
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