Apple resisting order to help feds hack iPhone of San Bernardino killers

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Privacy rights advocates rallied outside Apple's flagship store in San Francisco Wednesday, applauding Apple CEO Tim Cook's opposition to a federal court order requiring Apple to help the FBI access data on an iPhone connected to the San Bernardino terror attacks.

The dispute between Apple and the FBI has stirred up emotions on both sides of the federal judge's order, that is challenging how much access law enforcement can have to private data stored on digital devices. Apple and privacy advocates say this could put all iPhone users' data at risk. The FBI and law enforcement say denying access protects criminals and puts public safety at risk.

The iPhone 5c...
Investigators found the iPhone 5C in the car of Syed Farook after the San Bernardino terror attack last December.

Farook and his wife were killed and his county-issued work phone had password protection.

"We still have one of those killers' phones that we have not been able to open.. it's been 2 months now.. we're still working on it..  " FBI Director James Comey said earlier this month.

The difficulty facing the FBI is that Apple iPhones have a security feature that disables the phone if an incorrect password is entered and erases data completely after ten failed attempts.

The federal judge ordered the Cupertino-based company to create special software that could be installed on Farook's phone that would give the FBI unlimited password attempts to hack the phone.

In his online statement, Apple CEO Tim Cook says Apple already has responded to search warrants and even provided engineers to advise the FBI.

"Now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone," Cook stated.

"It's unprecedented what the government is asking Apple to do," said attorney Cindy Cohn, who serves as Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "The government doesn't get to conscript you into building tools or technologies or basically becoming a mini FBI agent working for them."
The government says the court order is narrow in focus.

"They're simply asking for something that would have an impact on just this one device," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.      

Privacy advocates, though, fear it could jeopardize the millions of iPhones used worldwide.

"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's statement read.

Software engineers say that's because Apple iPhones won't accept a new operative system software upgrade without the company's secret digital cryptographic signature.

"In order to install any software on the iPhone it has to be signed by Apple," said Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, a former Google software engineer who works at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The complexity of the issue was evident in the responses from politicians, with some Democrats and Republicans, ironically, finding themselves in agreement, saying national security takes precedent.

"There might be valuable information on that phone from the San Bernardino killers that could lead us to preventing future crimes, or future attacks," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, on his GOP presidential campaign trail in South Carolina.

"These companies, whether they mean to or not, are unfortunately making it easier for terrorists to do their devilish acts and it must be stopped," said Democratic New York Mayor Bill De Blasio.

The federal judge gave Apple five days to contest the ruling.