A letter posted on Apple’s website titled “A Message to Our Customers” and dated February 16 is calling for a public discussion on strong encryption and backdoors. The letter, electronically signed by Apple CEO Tim Cook, defiantly states that Apple will not “build a backdoor to the iPhone” despite being mandated by the FBI to do so.
“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
The letter opens with why encryption is necessary: smartphones store immense amounts of personal information which needs to be protected from hackers and criminals. To do so, Apple’s encryption prevents them from accessing their customers’ personal data.
“For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.”
The background is laid out in the aftermath of the tragic San Bernardino attack last December that left 14 people dead. Apple was complicit with the FBI in providing data for the investigation up to the point where a backdoor to the iPhone was demanded.
“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 case is then made why building a backdoor, even for just one iPhone, threatens data security for everyone. It would bring to existence a master “key” that cannot be guaranteed protection against those who seek to use it. The knowledge and technique once created could be used again to unlock any compatible device.
“Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”
In closing, the letter calls against the FBI for overstepping the boundary of security and reaffirms Apple’s refusal to build software to break their own encryption system. Furthermore, it is suggested that allowing the removal of security features and additions of backdoors would set precedents that could result in further violations of privacy.
“While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”