Millions of Americans’ personal data, including text message conversations, pictures and credit card information could be at the hands of strangers if the FBI gets what it wants out of Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook.
On Tuesday Feb. 16, Cook shared a letter on www.apple.com titled “A Message to Our Customers.” The letter detailed the FBI’s request for Apple to develop a “backdoor” to the iPhone. The order, which will help them gain information on one of the shooters involved in the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California on Dec. 2 2015, is an abuse of power according to Cook. Apple won’t be complying.
“We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI,” Cook said in the letter. “Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But, now, the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have and something we consider too dangerous to create.”
The FBI wants Apple to engineer a new version of the current iPhone operating system and install it onto a phone that was recovered at the investigation. This version of iOS would bypass security, making it much easier for hackers to get ahold of private information by unlocking phones by trying millions of combinations of passwords with the speed of a newer model computer.
“In the wrong hands, this software would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” Cook said in the letter.
Instead of asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is threatening to use the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify its authority, which will “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”
In the letter, Cook explained that, despite the FBI’s good intentions, anyone who knows how to bypass an encrypted system could hack into any number of phones, gathering personal information from iPhone users, which is an estimated 94 million people as of March 2015, according to a report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
“Once the information is known or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated with anyone with that knowledge,” Cook said in the letter.
The letter served as the company’s official stand to the government’s order.
“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly,” Cook said in the letter. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.”