The Cupertino, California-based company has reacted furiously.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an extremely strongly worded letter, calling the demand “chilling,” arguing that it “would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
This court case isn’t taking place in a vacuum. We’re in the middle of a bitter feud between tech companies and law enforcement about the rise in the use of encryption.
In the years after NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US government’s mass-surveillance programs, there have been a heightened awareness of privacy issues and moves to strengthen protections on consumer products.
Apple has been one of the strongest voices in support of this move, and all new iPhones and Apple devices are now encrypted by default.
……[Apple CEO Tim Cook writes]
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
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. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.
We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.