Trump targets Cook saying Apple should ‘step up to the plate’ to unlock mass killer’s iPhone

President Trump is setting a collision course with Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. The disagreement? Whether Apple should hack into an iPhone owned by a mass shooter

Tim Cook on stage
Cook says an iOS ‘backdoor’ system is too dangerous to create. Image: Apple

Trump on Twitter

This latest showdown escalated yesterday with a tweet by Donald Trump. The US President says that Apple needs to ‘step up to the plate’.

The FBI has reportedly contacted Apple to request their assistance. They wish to unlock two iPhones, one model five and one model seven. These were owned by the perpetrator of the Naval Air Station shooting in Pensacola last month.

Three people lost their lives and eight more were injured. The shooter was killed by deputies from Escambia County Sheriff’s department.

Attorney General William Barr at the Department of Justice (DoJ) classified the incident as a terrorist attack driven by jihadist ideology two days ago. Now, the FBI wants access to the killer’s phone history, and they need Apple’s help to do so.

The timing of Trump’s tweet is interesting, seeing as Apple News has recently confirmed a partnership with ABC News to report the 2020 presidential elections.

Not that we’d expect the media to be any less than impartial, but let’s hope it doesn’t get any more personal.

Apple and the FBI

On the one hand, we can all appreciate why law enforcement needs to understand as much as possible about the people behind such horrific crimes. Their social network, travel locations and contacts might provide critical information.

Prevention is better than any cure, and finding out more about active terrorist cells is essential. The FBI wants to try and stop any future attacks from ever happening, and thus save lives.

However, Apple takes a very firm stance. There is a precedent set here, and, so far, I can’t see them changing it.

Apple Store - Fifth Avenue
Apple says it will not back down to demands to hack into criminal’s iPhones. Image: Jorge Láscar via Flickr

Judicial precedents

In 2016 a similar situation occurred. The FBI wanted help from Apple to hack the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernadino attack.

A US federal judge ordered Apple to do so. However, Apple opposed this and eventually the pending lawsuit against them was withdrawn.

The FBI managed to hack the iPhone data with the help of Cellebrite in Israel.

Tim Cook published a public letter at the time, explaining Apple’s reasoning. Cook said that Apple had done everything possible, but that they were now being asked to build a new iOS circumventing all their security features.

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.

In essence, Apple is saying that to create software that could by-pass all security settings puts every iPhone user at risk. This theoretical iOS would disable all passcodes, and mean anyone with the operating system could easily access anybody’s phone.

The ramifications don’t need explaining with over 700 million iPhone users in the world.

Attorney General William Barr
Attorney General William Barr says Apple has not provided any substantive assistance. Image: DoJ

What happens next?

Barr said at Monday’s press conference:

So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance. This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause.

I think this is a standoff that nobody is prepared to back down from. Apple says they have provided all the data they have available. Barr says they haven’t been any help at all.

Cook feels that Apple are being targeted. He sayswe can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack‘.

My expectations? We will be seeing another lawsuit brought by the FBI or the DoJ against Apple. We will just have to wait and see if history repeats itself.

It’s a really controversial subject; which side do you come down on? Is it more important to assist law enforcement with preventing further attacks? Or is that outweighed by the security interests of the 700 million iPhone users? Let me know what you think!

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