Apple has taken its fight against the FBI to a new arena: television.
A week ago, Apple was issued a court order to assist the FBI in unlocking the passcode-protected iPhone 5c owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters who killed 14 people during the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, in December. In response, Apple CEO Tim Cook published a public letter to customers on the company’s site strongly opposing the order.
Now, Cook has granted a rare interview with “ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir to play up Apple’s opposition to the FBI.
‘Not about one phone’
Essentially, in the interview, Cook reiterated the key points he put forward in his customer letter. Chief among these was the argument that the FBI’s demand “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
“This case is not about one phone,” Cook said. “This case is about the future … If we knew a way to get the information on the phone — that we haven’t already given — if we knew a way to do this, that would not expose hundreds of millions of other people to issues, we would obviously do it … Our job is to protect our customers.”
‘The equivalent of cancer’
Signed by a magistrate judge in Riverside, California, the court order is essentially asking Apple to create a custom version of iOS that would facilitate the FBI’s attempts at unlocking the iPhone by “brute force,” i.e., trying millions of passcode combinations using a special peripheral, without the risk of deleting the data on the device. But in Apple’s view, as Cook noted in his letter, “In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
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And in his interview with Muir, Cook went even further and compared the software being demanded by the FBI to cancer. “The only way to get information — at least currently, the only way we know — would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer,” he said. “We think it’s bad news to write. We would never write it. We have never written it — and that is what is at stake here … We believe that is a very dangerous operating system.”
‘I don’t know where this stops’
Cook had previously noted in his letter that Apple had complied with valid subpoenas and search warrants for data in its possession, and had lent its engineers to advise the FBI, to assist the agency in investigating the San Bernardino case. But abiding by the agency’s request, he said, would set a dangerous precedent — a point which he echoed in his interview.
“If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write — maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for the law enforcement to turn on the camera,” Cook said. “I don’t know where this stops. But I do know that this is not what should be happening in this country.”
This last point recalls Cook’s closing line in his letter, saying that “ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
New security measures
Meanwhile, according to a new report by The New York Times, Apple is already developing new security measures that would make it impossible for the government to break into a locked iPhone using brute force and similar methods. The company is said to have begun work on the upgraded security measures even before the San Bernardino attack.
For more on the issue, see also: Protesters gather in ‘Don’t Break Our Phones’ rallies in support of Apple vs. FBI and Apple could claim freedom of speech in battle over iPhone 5c.