Tim Cook is absolutely right in resisting the FBI's insistence on a back door to the iPhone given the inherent potential abuses such a back door would have on the millions of customers who use iPhones for all things related to conducting business on planet earth.
In the past, Apple has helped extract data from iPhones when issued with an appropriate warrant. Since iOS 8, however, full encryption has been enabled by default—a move that was seemingly introduced specifically to prevent such data-grabs by governments. "Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data," the company wrote on its website at the time. "So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."
Now, however, Judge Sheri Pym has ordered Apple to introduce a backdoor to help the FBI unlock the iPhone—and, unsurprisingly, Tim Cook is not best pleased.
Cook's message to "our customers" is impressive without question.
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. But 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.
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
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.
Apple's reasonable technical assistance shall accomplish the following three important functions: (1) it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled; (2) it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT and (3) it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.
The all inclusive nature of the order scares the crap out of yours truly as the number of new soft targets hackers will have access to boggles the imagination if Apple complies with the court. Lastly, when you consider how our right to privacy have been taken away from us by the Bush and Obama administrations via the ongoing 24/7 surveillance being done by the NSA/FBI/CIA/IRS and other significant parties, it's no wonder why Apple's going to fight this as Google should or any other vendor who has our data in hand 24/7.
We are at a crossroads where either we take back our country or sit back and let the powers at be run it into the ground for the sake of ever increasing profit and power no matter what the cost may be.
The choice is up to us.
Addendum: Click here to get MIT's take on why backdoors, in general, are a really bad idea.
Update on why giving the FBI a backdoor is a REALLY REALLY bad idea.
On Friday, we noted that one of the reasons that the FBI was unable to get access to the data on the remaining iPhone from Syed Farook was because after the shooting and after the phone was in the hands of the government, Farook's employer, the San Bernardino Health Department, initiated a password change on his iCloud account. That apparently messed stuff up, because without that, it would have been possible to force the phone to backup data to the associated iCloud account, where it would have been available to the FBI. But, after we published that article, a rather salient point came out: the Health Department only did this because the FBI asked it to do so.
From a San Bernardino County Twitter account:
If you can't read that, it says: "The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI's request."
In short: a big reason why the FBI can't get the info it wants is because of an action taken... by the FBI.
Apple has also provided further information on this, showing how it was perfectly willing to cooperate in reasonable ways with the FBI -- but that it was the FBI that messed things up:
The Apple executive told reporters that the company’s engineers had first suggested to the government that it take the phone to the suspect’s apartment to connect it to the Wi-Fi there. But since reporters and members of the public had swarmed that crime scene shortly after the shootings occurred, it was likely that any Wi-Fi there had been disconnected. So Apple suggested the government take the phone to Farook’s former workplace and connect the phone to a Wi-Fi network there.
The executive said that Apple walked the government through the entire process to accomplish this, but the government came back about two weeks later and told Apple that it hadn’t worked.
Apple didn’t understand why it had not worked—until the company learned that sometime after the phone had been taken into the custody of law enforcement, someone had gone online and changed the Apple ID that the phone uses to conduct backups.