US fight over gunman’s locked iPhone could have big impact

Feb 19, 2016

Photo credit: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

By Eric Tucker And Tami Abdollah

A U.S. magistrate’s order for Apple Inc. to help the FBI hack into an iPhone used by the gunman in the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, sets up an extraordinary legal fight with implications for ordinary consumers and digital privacy.

The clash brings to a head a long-simmering debate between technology companies insistent on protecting digital privacy and law enforcement agencies concerned about becoming unable to recover evidence or eavesdrop on the communications of terrorists or criminals.

On Wednesday, the White House began disputing the contention by Apple’s chief executive officer, Tim Cook, that the Obama administration is seeking to force the software company to build a “backdoor” to bypass digital locks protecting consumer information on Apple’s popular iPhones. The early arguments set the stage for what will likely be a protracted policy and public relations fight in the courts, on Capitol Hill, on the Internet and elsewhere.

“They are not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to one of their products,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “They’re simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device.”

Within hours of the judge’s order on Tuesday telling Apple to aid the FBI with special software in the case, Cook promised a court challenge. He said the software the FBI would need to unlock the gunman’s work-issued iPhone 5C would be “too dangerous to create” and called it “undeniably” a backdoor.


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