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Apple vs FBI: Court hearing postponed after "outside party" offers FBI a way forward

March 21, 2016 10:21 PM
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Apple's help may no longer be required in breaking into San Bernardino iPhone

22/03/2016: Less than 24 hours after Tim Cook used his iPhone SE launch keynote to reaffirm Apple's commitment to the security and privacy of its customers, its court date with the FBI has been postponed after the law enforcement agency announced it may not need Apple's help to crack into the San Bernardino attackers' iPhone after all.

In the court filing requesting the postponement, the FBI said "an outside source" had demonstrated a way to get into the locked iPhone at the centre of the legal battle without need for Apple to custom write a new OS for this purpose.

"Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook's iPhone," the filing said, adding: "If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple."

US Department of Justice spokeswoman Melanie Newman told BBC News the government was "cautiously optimistic" the third party's method to unlock the phone would be successful.

21/03/2016: Tim Cook used the Apple iPhone SE launch event to comment on Apple’s feud with the FBI, claiming that Apple has “a responsibility” to oppose the government.

The statement came ahead of the company’s high-profile court clash, which begins tomorrow after a lengthy series of hearings and public back-and-forths.

He said that Apple’s executives “owe it to our customers, and we owe it to our country” to fight for encryption.

The company’s legal battle is an "issue that impacts all of us", Cook said, and added that Apple “did not expect to be in this position at odds with our own government."

Apple CEO Tim Cook may address the company's ongoing battle with the FBI over the locked iPhone court case, with tonight's Apple Event taking place the day before witnesses are called.

Apple is widely expected to launch the smaller, cheaper iPhone SE and the iPad Air 3 during it's March 21 press conference at the Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino.

On March 22 two Apple employees, chief privacy engineer Erik Neuenschwander and global law enforcement manager Lisa Olle, will speak for the company in a requested cross-examination of witnesses from the government.

The fact that the two events are seperated by mere hours has led to speculation as to whether Cook will mention the ongoing controversy surrounding iOS encryption alongside the launch of Apple's latest devices, with the timing not thought to be a complete coincidence.

Apple and the US Department of Justice will present witnesses for cross-examination tomorrow in the ongoing locked iPhone court case, according to Reuters.

The witnesses have already given written declarations on the legal briefs filed, an Apple lawyer speaking on a conference call told the publication, adding that the government made a request to cross-examine witnesses working at Apple last week.

Two Apple employees – chief privacy engineer Erik Neuenschwander and global law enforcement manager Lisa Olle – will speak for the iPhone maker.

FBI electronics engineer Stacey Perino and supervisory special agent Christopher Pluhar will be called up by the government.

Statements from Pluhar and Perino expand on the FBI’s attempts to recover data from the locked iPhone through the iCloud service, via its automatic backup. The agency attempted to gain access, but reset the account, meaning the latest data on the device was not uploaded into the cloud, as it would usually have been.

However, Perino stated in her declaration that the FBI would not have been able to access the phone’s data regardless of whether the reset occurred or not.

The case will resume tomorrow, hours after Apple’s spring press conference today, where it is expected to announce a new iPhone.

Apple engineers may quit or refuse to comply with a court order to hack an iPhone, if the US Department of Justice succeeds in its battle with Apple, a according to the New York Times.

Apple has said in a court filing that it would require between six and 10 engineers to create what it has dubbed ‘GovtOS’, a version of iOS that does away with a security barrier that wipes a handset's data after 10 incorrect password attempts.

These engineers would be drawn from a number of divisions, the tech giant said.

It is unclear whether the US Department of Justice has accounted for a situation where key Apple members refuse to follow the court's instructions in the event it wins the case, but former federal prosecutor Joseph DeMarco told the New York Times the outcomes would likely not be good for Apple.

“If – and this is a big if – every engineer at Apple who could write the code quit and, also a big if, Apple could demonstrate that this happened to the court’s satisfaction, then Apple could not comply and would not have to,” he said.

DeMarco added that if the engineers refused to code the OS but did not resign, Apple could be held in contempt of court.

Riana Pfefferkorn of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society explained that iPhone maker could then face daily fines if a judge took the opinion that it was deliberately avoiding compliance.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has sided with his former company in its ongoing battle with the FBI and US Department of Justice.

The former Apple executive was asked for his thoughts on the case during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on Tuesday, and said the right to data privacy should not be relinquished.

“You know what, I have things in my head, some very special people in my life that I don't talk about, that mean so much to me from the past. Those little things that I keep in my head are my little secrets. It's a part of my important world, my whole essence of my being,” he said.

“I also believe in honesty. If you tell somebody, ‘I am not snooping on you,’ or, ‘I am giving you some level of privacy; I will not look in your drawers,’ then you should keep your word and be honest.”

Wozniak explained that undermining the iPhone’s encryption with new code would inevitably fall into malicious hands.

“I come from the side of personal liberties,” he said. “But there are also other problems. Twice in my life I wrote things that could have been viruses. I threw away every bit of source code. I just got a chill inside. These are dangerous, dangerous things, and if some code gets written in an Apple product that lets people in, bad people are going to find their way to it, very likely.”

Apple has blasted the US government's legal arguments as "an exercise in wishful thinking" in the final court filing before its court battle with the FBI.

The company said that the government's interpretation of the All Writs Act of 1789 - the legislation law enforcement is using to strong-arm Apple into complying with its requests - "is not statutory interpretation".

"The government seeks an order here that is neither grounded in the common law nor authorized by statute," the brief read, explaining that for the All Writs Act to apply, an appropriate parallel must have been established by common-law rulings.

As the government wishes to apply it, Apple contended, the act would have "no limiting principle". It also claimed that the government had yet to explain how there would be any difference between "GovtOS today, and LocationTrackingOS and EavesdropOS tomorrow".

The filing claimed that the FBI and the DOJ are also attempting to use the All Writs Act to circumvent CALEA, a pre-existing piece of legislation that limits the government's ability to conduct surveillance on civilian communications networks.

The government, in turn, has been making veiled threats about requisitioning Apple's source code and signing key. This would essentially allow it to crack into any Apple product at will.

The company has said that this warning highlights "the government's fundamental misunderstanding or reckless disregard of the technology at issue and the security risks implicated by its suggestion".

Apple has reacted angrily to the latest court filing from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in its ongoing attempt to get the Cupertino company to help it break into a locked iPhone 5c.

In its filing, which can be read here, the DoJ said: "Apple and its amici [those who have filed amicus briefs] try to alarm this Court with issues of network security, encryption back doors, and privacy, invoking larger debates before congress and in the news media. That is a diversion."

It went on to accuse Apple of wishing to make its products "warrant-proof" and having "deliberately raised technological barriers that now stand between a lawful warrant and an iPhone containing evidence related to the terrorist mass murder of 14 Americans".

The DoJ also accused Apple of using "rhetoric [that is] not only false, but also corrosive", and of "extolling itself as the primary guardian of Americans' privacy". It also raised the fact Apple has co-operated with the demands of other nations, singling out china in particular.

In response, Bruce Sewell, Apple's general counsel and SVP of legal and government affairs, told a press conference that the filing "reads like an indictment".

"In 30 years of practice, I don't think I've ever seen a legal brief that was more intended to smear the other side with false accusations and innuendo, and less focused on the real merits of the case," Sewell said, according to Business Insider.

"For the first time ever, we see an allegation that Apple has deliberately made changes to block law enforcement requests for access. This should be deeply offensive to everyone that reads it. An unsupported, unsubstantiated effort to vilify Apple rather than confront the issues in the case.

"We are going before court to exercise our legal rights. Everyone should beware because it seems like disagreeing with the Department of Justice means you must be evil and anti-American. Nothing could be further from the truth," Sewell concluded.

10/03/2016: An Apple executive fears that the FBI could eventually secretly spy on your phone camera and microphone if it succeeds in forcing Apple to help weaken an iPhone's security.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, told broadcast Univision (Business Insider received an English transcript from Apple): “When they can get us to create a new system to do new things, where will it stop?

“For example, one day [the FBI] may want us to open your phone’s camera, microphone. Those are things we can't do now. But if they can force us to do that, I think that’s very bad.”

The significance of unlocking the single encrypted iPhone at the heart of the dispute has been played down by the FBI.

Cue, however, claimed that it is the equivalent of giving them a key to the back door of everybody's houses.

"Since we don't have the key, they want us to change the lock," Cue said. "When we change the latchkey, it changes for everyone. And we have a key that opens all phones. And that key, once it exists, exists not only for us. Terrorists, criminals, pirates, all too will find that key to open all phones.”

He stressed that Apple engineers are constantly working to make its devices more secure.

The current case, he suggested, should not be viewed as Apple versus the government, but instead an example of Apple’s attempts to keep citizens safe from criminals and other malicious agents.

“It’s Apple engineers against terrorists, against criminals. They are the people we are trying to protect people from. We are not protecting the government," he said. "We want to help. They have a very difficult job, they are there to protect us. So we want to help as much as possible, but we can not help them in a way that will help more criminals, terrorists, pirates.”

He added that Apple would appeal the current case to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

The US Justice Department has asked a New York court to reverse a pro-Apple ruling that could threaten the FBI's position in the ongoing encryption dispute.

US Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled in late February that the tech company was not required to open an iPhone involved in a routine narcotics case.

In a 45-page brief, the Justice Department asked a federal court in Brooklyn to overturn the decision, stating that it sets "an unprecedented limitation" on its judicial authority.

In both Orenstein's drugs case and the investigation into the San Bernardino shootings, which is at the centre of the FBI's request for Apple to help it break into the device, the government has attempted to use the All Writs Act to compel Apple to divulge information kept on the devices.

However, while federal judges have sided with the FBI regarding the San Bernardino case by ordering the company to render "reasonable technical assistance" to investigators, Judge Orenstein has not.

Instead, he ruled that using the All Writs Act to force access to the device would "thoroughly undermine fundamental principles of the Constitution".

The government has also argued that while the San Bernardino case would involve Apple writing custom software to bypass security features, the New York drugs trial involved pre-established data extraction methods that have already been used in previous cases.

Apple has accused the FBI of trying to undo years of security advancements for the iPhone.

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at the tech giant, said that by returning to iOS 7 security standards, hackers would be well-poised to hack into people's iPhones.

In a comment piece for the Washington Post, he said: “Our team must work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of criminal attackers who seek to pry into personal information and even co-opt devices to commit broader assaults that endanger us all.

“That’s why it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013.

“But the security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers. What’s worse, some of their methods have been productised and are now available for sale to attackers who are less skilled but often more malicious.”

Since iOS 8, Apple has included device-specific encryption methods but claims the FBI would erase this by rolling back to a previous operating system.

The law enforcement agency wants Apple to assist it in removing a security barrier on the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the people responsible for killing 14 people in San Bernardino last year.

Apple - and other Silicon Valley firms - believe that setting such a precedent would harm American citizens, and is fighting the case in a California court and Congress.

Federighi added that while Apple’s software engineers are not always perfect in their work, “identifying and fixing those problems are critical parts of our mission to keep customers safe. Doing anything to hamper that mission would be a serious mistake".

Meanwhile, the judge overseeing the court battle between the two organisations has heard that criminals have been switching to the newer iPhone models as their “device of choice” to commit offences thanks to the tough encryption present in each handset.

The US Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and two other bodies said in a court filing that they were aware of “numerous instances” of criminals who previously used throwaway ‘burner phones’ switching to iPhones, Reuters reported.

No specific instances were listed in the documents the group presented.

However, it cited a prison phone call recorded by New York authorities in 2015, where an inmate called Apple’s encrypted operating system a “gift from God”.

The iPhone at the centre of the Apple-FBI dispute may have been used to release a "cyber pathogen" on the infrastructure of San Bernardino, according to the District Attorney for the county.

A court brief spotted by Ars Technica, and filed by San Bernardino DA Michael Ramos, read: "The seized iPhone may contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino County's infrastructure."

The iPhone 5c is owned by the county, which issued it as a work phone to Syed Farook, one of the two San Bernardino shooters responsible for killing 14 people.

Apple is fighting back against the FBI's demand that it create an alternative operating system for the iPhone, so the agency can try as many passwords as possible on the phone without triggering the device's in-built security barrier that wipes its data after 10 incorrect password attempts.

However, the DA did not refer to any proof to back up his suspicions, and the county told Ars that it had nothing to do with filing the brief.

An iPhone forensics expert, Jonathan Zdziarski, told Ars: "This reads as an amicus designed to mislead the courts into acting irrationally in an attempt to manipulate a decision in the FBI's favor."

The news comes after the UN High Commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said the FBI's efforts to compel Apple to bypass the iPhone's security barrier could harm millions of people.

He said in a statement: "In order to address a security-related issue related to encryption in one case, the authorities risk unlocking a Pandora’s Box that could have extremely damaging implications for the human rights of many millions of people, including their physical and financial security."

"A successful case against Apple in the US will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world,” the UN human rights chief added. “It is potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes, as well as to criminal hackers.

"There have already been a number of concerted efforts by authorities in other States to force IT and communications companies such as Google and Blackberry to expose their customers to mass surveillance.”

Earlier today, dozens of Silicon Valley tech firms backed Apple's stance against the FBI, saying its request to bypass security would harm American citizens.

Google, Microsoft, Box and dozens of other tech giants have backed Apple in its battle against the FBI over weakening iPhone security.

The Silicon Valley giants filed a legal brief yesterday to call on a judge to support Apple’s refusal to bypass a security feature that wipes iPhone data after 10 incorrect passwords.

The FBI wants Apple to help it access the iPhone 5c that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

Facebook, Dropbox, Cisco and Yahoo also signed the legal brief, which their lawyers submitted to the district court of California, ahead of a hearing on 22 March.

It read: “[These firms] here speak with one voice because of the singular importance of this case to them and their customers who trust [them] to safeguard their data and most sensitive communications from attackers.

“[They are] united in their view that the government’s order to Apple exceeds the bounds of existing law and, when applied more broadly, will harm Americans’ security in the long run.”

Various other amicus briefs – which allow outside persons to comment on legal cases - came from other tech firms and privacy campaigners, while relatives of San Bernardino victims filed legal briefs opposed to Apple’s stance.

The FBI wants Apple to write a new version of its operating system that would mean the iPhone would not wipe its data after 10 incorrect password attempts.

Both sides made opening speeches to Congress last week, with the FBI comparing the security barrier to a “vicious guard dog”, while Apple claimed that bypassing the feature would weaken the security of all American citizens.

The FBI admitted it had asked the California county to reset the password on Farook’s phone, meaning that the device did not send a fresh data backup to Apple’s servers though the FBI claimed it would not have got all relevant data from the device.

Box founder Aaron Levie was the latest to call for a public discussion of the issue, saying after the legal briefs were filed: “Asking Apple to break or weaken its security features undermines our collective trust in technology in the digital age. Instead, we need an open, public dialogue focused on helping us collectively strike the right balance between privacy and security."

Apple and the FBI have butted heads in Congress as the feud over a shooter’s locked iPhone has grown into a debate about national security versus civil liberties.

The opposing sides made their opening remarks to a congressional judiciary panel on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

“We’re asking Apple to take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock,” FBI director James Comey told the panel, referring to the iPhone 5c belonging to San Bernadino shooter Syed Farook, who helped kill 14 people.

“The FBI is asking Apple to weaken the security of our products,” Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell responded later that afternoon.

“Is it the right thing to make our society overall less safe in order to solve crime? That’s the issue that we're wrestling with.”

Comey admitted the FBI had made a mistake just after the San Bernardino attack when it asked the county – which owned the phone – to reset the password for the perpetrator’s iCloud account. That data, stored on Apple servers, held backups of the phone. Had the password not been reset, the phone may have made a fresh backup available to investigators for further inspection.

“The experts tell me there's no way we would have gotten everything off the phone from a backup,” Comey added.

Tuesday’s hearing moved the debate from the courts to Congress, where both sides agree the larger policy deliberation belongs.

However, in the past month, judges have issued conflicting opinions on whether or not companies should help law enforcement break encryption.

On Monday, a federal judge in Brooklyn, US Magistrate Judge James Orenstein, said the government could not force Apple to help it gain access to a phone in a drug case, saying that relying on the ancient All Writs Act would produce “impermissibly absurd results”.

But in California, Judge Sheri Pym, instructed Apple to help the FBI crack the locked iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino shootings, last December. Apple filed an appeal against this ruling late on Tuesday night.

Following these two conflicting rulings, Comey said Congress must address the wider collision between privacy and public safety.

In a significant turn of events, a judge in New York has ruled Apple cannot be forced to unlock an iPhone, deeming that such an action under the All Writs Act would likely be unconstitutional.

The case, which involves an iPhone retrieved as part of a drugs investigation, is similar to the one Apple is currently fighting in California, where judge Sheri Pym of the US District Court in LA ruled Apple must provide "reasonable technical assistance" to FBI investigators who want to gain access to the iPhone 5c of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

In both cases, the government has used a catch-all piece of legislation known as the All Writs Act to attempt to compel Apple to break its own security protocols. In the case of the San Bernardino iPhone, this means writing a custom version of iOS. However, while judge Pym in LA has looked favourably on the FBI's request, judge James Orenstein in New York has not.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation campaign group said of the ruling: "It's a significant rejection of the government's interpretation of the All Writs Act, which prosecutors have advanced in multiple jurisdictions across the country."

"While the government has argued that its extraordinary invocation of the All Writs Act is not intended to set a precedent, judge Orenstein properly recognises what is at stake. In particular, he casts shade on the very constitutionality of the government's interpretation, describing it as virtually unbounded," it added.

It is unclear, however, what effect, if any, the New York ruling will have on the California case. Amicus briefs are set to be filed within the next 72 hours in LA, with oral evidence being heard within the coming weeks.

26/02/2016: Microsoft has become the latest company to announce its support for Apple in its fight against the FBI's demands the company unlock an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino killer Syed Farook.

At a hearing on Thursday, Microsoft's chief legal officer said the company will file an amicus brief - also known as a friend of the court brief - next week in support of Apple, according to Bloomberg. The news outlet also said Alphabet - Google's parent company - and Facebook plan to file a separate brief, citing "people familiar with the matter", while Twitter has publicly said it will also be filing an amicus brief.

Bloomberg reports that during Thursday's hearing Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, told the court: "Every case has implications for others." Microsoft is itself embroiled in a court battle with an unnamed US law enforcement agency, thought to be the FBI, which is seeking to access email data held in the company's Dublin data centre. In a mirror image of the iPhone case, Apple came out in support of Microsoft, along with a number of other tech giants.

25/02/2016: Apple CEO Tim Cook believes the FBI wants his company to create "the software equivalent of cancer".

The tech giant is currently embroiled in a fierce battle with the agency over the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook, which Apple has been court-ordered to help the FBI gain access to.

In an interview with ABC News, Cook reiterated his claims that Apple has "passed all of the information that we have on the phone".

He stated that the only way to get any further data "would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer".

"We think it's bad news to write," he said. "We would never write it. We have never written it."

The proposed software, he warned, would be "bad for America", and went on to say "this case is not about one phone... this case is about the future."

"If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write," Cook explained. "Maybe it's an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for the law enforcement to turn on the camera".

"I don't know where this stops. But I do know that this is not what should be happening in this country."

"Some things are hard, and some things are right, and some things are both," he said. "This is one of those things."

Apple will tell a US federal judge this week that its argument with the FBI over cracking a locked and encrypted iPhone should be decided by Congress, rather than the courts, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Apple will also contest that the court order for it to help hack the iPhone, which belonged to one of the San Bernardino attackers, is invalid under the 1789 All Writs Act, which has been used in the past to compel companies to provide assistance to law enforcement.

Judge Sheri Pym of the US District Court in LA ordered Apple last week to create specialised software to help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, last December.

Apple has not yet made any filings in the case because the US Justice Department asked the magistrate to rule before Apple had an opportunity to dispute.

However, according to the AP, the company intends to argue in its legal papers that the 1789 law has never been used to coerce a company to write software to assist the government.

Michael Zweiback, the former chief of the cybercrimes section of the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and a former prosecutor, told the AP it was very unusual for the US government to ask Apple to give the FBI specialised software that would weaken the protections on the iPhone.

“There’s a significant legal question as to whether the All Writs Act can be used to order a company to create something that may not presently exist,” Zweiback said.

Speaking about the implications on data privacy the case could have, he added: “We are not the only ones who are asking for encryption keys," he said. "The Chinese government has made similar demands upon them, the European Union has made similar demands upon them, so the implications are really not even national. They’re international in scope.”

However, Josh Earnest, a spokesman for The White House, said: “Sending complicated things to Congress is often not the surest way to get a quick answer. In fact, even asking some of the most basic questions of Congress sometimes does not ensure a quick answer.”

Bill Gates has dismissed claims the FBI wants a backdoor into Apple's iPhone as overblown.

Apple has defied a court order demanding the company help the FBI unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed 14 people and injured 22 in a shooting in California.

The Microsoft founder has now called into question Apple CEO Tim Cook's claims that creating software to bypass a security barrier on the phone would set a "dangerous precedent", and called for a sensible discussion around the issue.

"Nobody's talking about a backdoor", Gates told the Financial Times. "This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case".

He likened the case to government agents requesting access to phone or banking records, stating "there's no difference between information".

A fierce debate has been ignited over whether or not Apple should comply with the FBI's requests. Silicon Valley has largely closed ranks around the company, with multiple prominent industry figures speaking up in the company's defense.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have both offered varying degrees of support for Apple's position, with the latter stating at MWC 2016 that his company is "sympathetic with Apple."

Gates' own Microsoft has also indicated that it sides against the government on this occasion. Multiple spokespeople pointed to a statement from the Reform Government Surveillance group - of which Microsoft is a member - that backs Apple up.

The group demands that limits are set to the US government's capacity to collect data and that it operates under better oversight and accountability.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has sent an internal email to staff reasserting his refusal of a federal court order to assist the FBI in cracking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino gunmen.

The FBI had obtained the court order to force Apple to help it bypass a security barrier that would have wiped the data on the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed 14 people in a suspected terrorist attack in San Bernardino last December, after 10 incorrect attempts.

In the memo, obtained by BuzzFeed News, Cook thanked Apple employees and the public for the support the company has received in the days since its refusal hit the headlines.

He said that though Apple has no sympathy for terrorists, “the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people” is what is at stake, and would set “a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties”.

“Apple is a uniquely American company. It does not feel right to be on the opposite side of the government in a case centering on the freedoms and liberties that government is meant to protect,” Cook wrote.

The CEO called on the US government to withdraw its demand under the All Writs Act and has encouraged an open discussion between intelligence, technology and privacy experts on the implications for national security, privacy and personal freedom.

According to him, members of congress want Apple to backtrack its data protection to iOS 7, undoing significant encryption changes it established with iOS 8.

“Starting with iOS 8, we began encrypting data in a way that not even the iPhone itself can read without the user’s passcode, so if it is lost or stolen, our personal data, conversations, financial and health information are far more secure. We all know that turning back the clock on that progress would be a terrible idea,” Cook wrote.

In tandem with the internal memo, Apple has today published a Q&A to answer questions people may have about its case with the FBI.

In the Q&A, the company underlines its commitment to protect its customers' data and also refutes arguments by the FBI claiming that unlocking the iPhone is not a big deal.

Apple is required to provide a formal response to its court order by the end of the week.

Maverick cybersecurity legend John McAfee has offered to his services in helping the FBI unlock an iPhone that was used by one of the San Bernardino killers.

In an op-ed in Business Insider, McAfee said that the FBI doesn't "have the talent" to crack the iPhone.

"They don't have the personnel. And how could they? We're talking people with purple mohawks, face tattoos. They smoke weed all day long! Things that could keep them from working with the government," he said.

McAfee insisted that he was on the side of Apple in its fight, but said his actions wold help both sides.

"I have friends," he said. "They can tell you what the operating system is doing, in short order."

"They are all prodigies with talents that defy normal human comprehension. About 75 percent are social engineers. The remainder are hardcore coders. I would eat my shoe on the Neil Cavuto show if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone. This is a pure and simple fact.

"We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks," he said.

"If you accept my offer you will not need to ask Apple to place a backdoor in its product, which would be the beginning of the end of America.

"If you doubt my credentials, Google 'cybersecurity legend' and see whose name is the only name that appears in the first 10 results out of more than a quarter of a million."

18/02/2016: Google CEO Sundar Pichai warns FBI's iPhone backdoor would set a "troubling precedent"

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has backed Apple’s refusal to help the FBI bypass the iPhone’s built-in security.

Apple boss Tim Cook plans to fight a court order he argues would compel his firm to build a backdoor into the iPhone.

The FBI obtained the order to get Apple’s help cracking an iPhone 5c belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed 14 people in a suspected terrorist attack in San Bernardino last December.

But Google’s Pichai said Cook is right to challenge the court order, saying creating a backdoor into the iPhone’s encryption could create wider risks to data protection.

In a series of tweets calling such a move a “troubling precedent”, he said: “Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy.

“We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data.”

The technical assistance the FBI has asked for would enable it to remove the iPhone’s ability to wipe its data after 10 failed password attempts.

Cook called for a public discussion about the issue, claiming such a move would threaten Apple customers’ security.

Whatsapp’s founder, Jan Koum, also came out in support of Apple’s stance, writing in a Facebook post that “we must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set”, saying it would put people’s freedom and liberty at risk”.

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) applauded Apple’s defiance of the court order and accused the US government of trying to create a “master key” to Apple devices that goes beyond the scope of needing access to a single iPhone.

“Once that master key is created, we're certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security,” an EFF statement read.

Apple has been ordered to disable some of the key security features of an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters by a judge in Los Angeles.

Judge Sheri Pym of the US District Court in LA ruled Apple must provide "reasonable technical assistance" to FBI investigators working on the San Bernardino case, which saw 14 people killed and 22 others injured by Syed Rizwan Farook, to whom the iPhone belonged, and Tachfeen Malik, his wife.

Such technical assistance includes helping the FBI to guess Farook's passcode and removing the device's auto-erase function, which kicks in when the wrong passcode has been entered 10 times.

Prosecutors acting on behalf of the FBI said: "Apple has the exclusive means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily."

In an open letter to customers, CEO Tim Cook said: "The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

"This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake."

Cook went on to explain the need for strong encryption, saying that "compromising the security of our personal data can ultimately put our personal safety at risk".

In direct reference to the San Bernardino case, he said Apple has "no sympathy for terrorists" and has aided the FBI both in the immediate wake of the attack and provided data subsequently to the agency that was in the company's possession in response to what it describes as valid subpoenas and search warrants.

"We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them," said Cook. "But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create."

He continued: "Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features ... in the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession."

Cook contends that the implications are far-reaching and could undermine "the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect".

"The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control," he said.

The case is very reminiscent of an ongoing court battle in New York between Microsoft and an unnamed US law enforcement agency - widely thought to be the FBI - regarding email data held in its Dublin datacentre.


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