Apple rejects court order to ‘unlock’ iPhone

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Apple has asked a federal magistrate in Washington to vacate her order that it helps the FBI hack into a locked iPhone.

The company said in a court filing on Thursday that the FBI is seeking “dangerous power” through the courts.

An Apple supporter protests the FBI
(Eric Risberg/AP)

A week ago, a federal magistrate in California directed Apple to help the FBI hack into a phone used by one of the assailants in the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Earlier, Apple chief Tim Cook told ABC News that it would be “bad for America” if his company complied with the FBI’s demand and that he was prepared to take the fight to the Supreme Court.

Apple has argued that doing so would make other iPhones more susceptible to hacking by authorities or criminals in the future.

Apple logo
(Julie Jacobson/AP)

The filing represents Apple’s first official response to last week’s order.

The US Justice Department is proposing a “boundless interpretation” of the law that, if left unchecked, could bring disastrous repercussions for digital privacy, the company warned in a memo submitted to magistrate Sheri Pym.

“The government says: ‘Just this once’ and ‘Just this phone.’ But the government knows those statements are not true,” lawyers for Apple wrote.

Apple said the specialised software the government wants it to build does not currently exist and “would require significant resources and effort to develop”, including the work of six to 10 engineers working two to four weeks.

iPhone 6
(Lauren Hurley/PA)

The magistrate judge suggested in her ruling that the government would be required to pay Apple’s costs.

“No court has ever authorised what the government now seeks, no law supports such unlimited and sweeping use of the judicial process, and the Constitution forbids it,” Apple said.

It accused the government of working under a closed courtroom process under the auspices of a terrorism investigation of trying “to cut off debate and circumvent thoughtful analysis”.

“The government wants to compel Apple to create a crippled and insecure product,” the company said. “Once the process is created, it provides an avenue for criminals and foreign agents to access millions of iPhones.”

Protesters outside an Apple Store
(Eric Risberg/AP)

Apple pointedly noted the US government itself fell victim to hackers, when thieves stole the personal information of tens of millions of current and former federal workers and their family members from the US Office of Personnel Management.

The policy issues raised in the US Justice Department’s dispute with Apple represent the “hardest question I’ve seen in government”, FBI director James Comey has said.

“It’s really about who do we want to be as a country and how do we want to govern ourselves,” Comey told the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.