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Apple's Cook Slams Court Order to 'Build a Back Door to the iPhone'

The fight over encryption technology heats up more.

The Verge

Apple CEO Tim Cook condemned a recent federal court ruling that would force Apple to construct a government “back door” into iPhones, in a letter posted on at around midnight on Tuesday evening. His strongly worded appeal to the public makes it clear that the tech giant is going to challenge the court’s ruling and escalate the battle with the government.

“We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack,” wrote Cook, in part. “Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data.”

Earlier in the day, a U.S. District Court judge said that Apple needed to modify iPhone software to allow the government access into a phone used by one of the shooters in December’s San Bernardino terrorist attacks. Apple and cyber security experts have long contended that complying with such an order would expose consumers to hackers and excessive government surveillance.

Apple was given five days to comply with the order, unless the company found it “unreasonably burdensome.”

In the post, titled “A Message to Our Customers,” Cook argues that “the implications of the government’s demands are chilling,” and that they extend “far beyond the legal case at hand.”

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Cook writes. “If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.”

Strong words, but consistent with what Cook and Apple have been arguing for a while now. Apple and other Silicon Valley giants like Google have invested heavily in encryption technology over the last few years, and have resisted government efforts to access user data.

But the tenor of the debate changed significantly this past fall, after mass shootings in San Bernardino and Paris that unnamed government officials say were planned using encrypted communications.

The policy shift was badly timed for President Barack Obama. Earlier last fall, his administration said that it would not pursue government access for encrypted user data. Still, most presidential candidates said that Silicon Valley should do more to fight terrorism, and White House officials even met with tech leaders for a lengthy sit-down early last month.

Although former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated at a Democratic presidential debate that serious progress was made during talks, recent remarks made by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey suggested otherwise.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet-focused civil liberties organization, said that it plans to file an amicus brief on Apple’s behalf.

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