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Apple: Complying With FBI's Request Would Create "Dangerous Precedent"

"It would be wrong to intentionally weaken our products with a government-ordered backdoor."


Apple on Monday launched a new website that further explains why it does not plan to comply with the FBI's request to create a iPhone backdoor hack. The government's request is that Apple create a special version of iOS that could bypass security protections at the Lock screen as well as introduce a new feature that would allow passcode tries to be input electronically.

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The Cupertinto-based tech giant is not going along with it, one reason being that if passcodes could be input electronically, iPhones would become easier to unlock via "brute force."

"The passcode lock and requirement for manual entry of the passcode are at the heart of the safeguards we have built in to iOS," it explained. "It would be wrong to intentionally weaken our products with a government-ordered backdoor. If we lose control of our data, we put both our privacy and our safety at risk."

Additionally, Apple warned that the FBI's order would create a "legal precedent" that could become a slippery slope. It would "expand the powers of the government and we simply don't know where that would lead us. Should the government be allowed to order us to create other capabilities for surveillance purposes, such as recording conversations or location tracking? This would set a very dangerous precedent."

Also in Apple's new letter, the company explained that it is technically possible to do what the FBI is asking. Apple refuses, however, because it is "too dangerous."

"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," Apple said.

The FBI's request for the iPhone backdoor hack was related to the iPhone recovered in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015. Some have wondered if Apple could create this hack for this one phone and never use it again to comply with the FBI's request. But that's problematic.

"The digital world is very different from the physical world. In the physical world you can destroy something and it's gone. But in the digital world, the technique, once created, could be used over and over again, on any number of devices," the company explained.

"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. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks."

"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" -- Apple

Apple added: "Again, we strongly believe 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 went on to say that, though it has received requests to unlock iPhones for law enforcement in the past, it has never done so. It has, however, extracted data from certain iPhones (those running pre-iOS 8) at the request of authorities when a lawful court order is obtained, the company explained.

"We've built progressively stronger protections into our products with each new software release, including passcode-based data encryption, because cyberattacks have only become more frequent and more sophisticated," it said. "As a result of these stronger protections that require data encryption, we are no longer able to use the data extraction process on an iPhone running iOS 8 or later."

The US government's Justice Department has called Apple's refusal to comply with this request a marketing stunt, but Apple obviously doesn't see it that way.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. This is and always has been about our customers," it said. "We feel strongly that if we were to do what the government has asked of us--to create a backdoor to our products--not only is it unlawful, but it puts the vast majority of good and law abiding citizens, who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data, at risk."

Also on the new website, Apple says it's already done everything in its power and within the law to assist the FBI in the San Bernardino case. "As we've said, we have no sympathy for terrorists," Apple said.

"We provided all the information about the phone that we possessed. We also proactively offered advice on obtaining additional information," it said. "Even since the government's order was issued, we are providing further suggestions after learning new information from the Justice Department's filings."

Apple suggested to the Justice Department that they pair the phone to a previously joined network, in turn allowing them to back up the phone and get the information they are looking for. But this is no longer possible, Apple says, because "while the attacker's iPhone was in FBI custody the Apple ID password associated with the phone was changed. Changing this password meant the phone could no longer access iCloud services."

"As the government has confirmed, we've handed over all the data we have, including a backup of the iPhone in question. But now they have asked us for information we simply do not have."

Finally, Apple said it hopes the government will withdraw its demands. The company would also like to see a special panel formed where experts in the fields of intelligence, technology, and civil liberty can talk about what to do in these types of situations. "Apple would gladly participate in such an effort," it said.

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