US technology giant Apple has vowed to fight an order to unblock an iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 dead.
In a statement, CEO Tim Cook said the court order sought and obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is investigating the December 2015 attack, would pose a serious threat to data security.
“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers,” Cook said on Tuesday in a message on the company’s website.
“We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
A federal judge in Riverside, California, on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the FBI unblock and access the iPhone used in the December 2 attack, when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and seriously injured more than 20 others at a San Bernardino county facility.
The order handed down by Judge Sheri Pym said Apple must provide the FBI with “reasonable technical assistance” that enables the agency to access the mobile phone.
That assistance would involve creating a new version of the iPhone operating system and installing it on the smartphone that was used by the shooter.
Doing so would deactivate a security system that erases a phone’s data if the digits of its passcode are not entered correctly after several attempts.
Were that function to be deactivated, federal investigators would be able to enter as many passcode combinations as necessary to gain access to the iPhone and all the information it contains.
The telephone was used by Farook but owned by his employer, the San Bernardino county public health department, which has already given permission for the phone to be searched.
The data of most Apple devices is encrypted and can only be accessed by entering the correct passcode. If the wrong iPhone passcode is entered 10 times, its data is automatically erased.
“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers,” Cook said in the statement, adding that “while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control”.
Stating that “opposing this order is not something we take lightly,” the Apple CEO said smartphone data “needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission.”