Apple “Formally Objects” To Court Order To Unlock San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone

Image courtesy of dlayphoto.com

Hours after Apple and the FBI faced off before a Congressional panel on the matters of encryption, privacy, and law enforcement, the company officially filed its objection to a court order directing it to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone that belonged to one of the terrorists who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, CA, on Dec. 2, 2015.

Last month, a United States Magistrate Judge for the Central District of California ordered Apple to aid federal law enforcement in circumventing privacy protections on an iPhone found in the possession of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.

In a one-sentence filing [PDF] provided to the court last night, Apple says it “hereby formally objects to the Court’s February 16, 2016 Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search, referring to the motion to vacate [PDF] if filed last week.

In that motion, Apple contended that “This is not a case about one isolated iPhone,” but instead is a question of “the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe.”

Apple maintains that “no court has ever authorized what the government now seeks,” which is for Apple to create a back door to bypass iPhone encryption “making its users’ most confidential and personal information vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, hostile foreign agents, and unwarranted government surveillance.”

The company says that if the FBI wants the authority to compel Apple and others to weaken their encryption, it should do it through Congress, not through the courts, which Apple says is a “forum ill-suited to address the myriad competing interests, potential ramifications, and unintended consequences presented by the government’s unprecedented demand.”

Apple’s motion to vacate also called out the FBI’s insistence that this is an isolated instance that doesn’t pose a bigger-picture concern.

“The government says: ‘Just this once’ and ‘Just this phone,’ But the government knows those statements are not true,” reads the motion, pointing to other pending attempts to compel Apple to hack its own devices.

The government ran into a significant roadblock in one such case earlier this week, when a federal magistrate judge in New York sided with Apple [PDF], denying law enforcement’s efforts to compel the company to assist in unlocking a crime suspect’s phone.

While Apple has said it has offered suggestions to the FBI on how agents may be able to unlock the device, the company has repeatedly, and publicly, pushed back against calls for it to assist in this matter.

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a Feb. 17 note to customers. “The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.”

Apple is reportedly working on an upgrade to the iPhone that would make the device unhackable, even by its makers.