On the 2 December 2015, a married couple called Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, opened fire on a party in San Bernardino, USA. They killed 14 people and injured 22. Both perpetrators were killed at the scene and the US government is treating the crime as domestic terrorism.
So what does this have to do with Apple?
Well, after the incident, Farook’s iPhone 5C was sized by the FBI but they couldn’t access its content. Therefore, the FBI filed an order to Apple to enforce them to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the investigators to access the phones data.
So what does “reasonable technical assistance” mean?
In simple terms, the FBI want Apple to disable any auto-erase functions on the phone. The auto-erase functions are there to protect stolen phones and are automatically triggered when an incorrect pass-code has been entered 10 times. Once this has been disabled, the FBI also want Apple to enable a method of submitting pass-code guesses in a rapid, electronic method. This means the FBI will be able to crack the code without risk losing the data.
However Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, is opposing the order and wrote an open letter to its customers stating it has “implications far beyond the legal case at hand”.
Does anyone agree with Apple?
Apple are gaining support from a lot of different people including the general public.
Support from company executives include the WhatsApp founder, Jan Koum and Google chief Executive, Sundar Pichai.
Who is on the FBI’s side?
The FBI has stated that they have the full backing of the Whitehouse. Also Donald Trump has agreed saying he is “100% with the courts”.
So can it be done?
Well, there are no indications in Apples open letter that it cannot be done. And most technical experts around the world have stated on blogs that Apple should be able to do it.
Why does it matter?
The main concern of the Apple corner is that it will not be an unprecedented case and the law will commonly be used to break into anyone’s iPhone. From a technical perspective, mobile phone owners and tech companies are worried that it may create vulnerabilities in the operating system and open the door to hackers.
However, in the FBI corner, you can see how law enforcers require the information. It may contain important evidence that could save future lives and prevent terrorism.
What happens next?
The FBI have given Apple 5 days to respond to the filed order. So we’ll be seeing very quickly an outcome to this dilemma. Which way will it go? Only time will tell. But a PR war is brewing!