Judge wants Apple to help hack into San Bernardino shooters' phone. Tim Cook not a fan of the idea

Break out the Privacy vs Security bumper stickers, folks. The battle is on yet again and this time it’s dragging some big players into the steel cage. Having failed to gain the needed information from the cell phone of the San Bernardino terrorists, a judge has ordered Apple to open up the phone for Uncle Sam and see what connections to other Islamic terrorists on American soil might be found inside. (NBC News)

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Apple to give investigators access to encrypted data on the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, assistance the computer giant “declined to provide voluntarily,” according to court papers.

In a 40-page filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles argued that it needed Apple to help it find the password and access “relevant, critical … data” on the locked cellphone of Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California on December 2.

“Despite … a warrant authorizing the search,” said prosecutors, “the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”

Apple honcho Tim Cook wasted no time in letting the court know that this was a step too far. (MAC Rumors)

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

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.

We live in a world where we not only face direct, physical threats from terrorists on our own shores, but the invisible terrorists who creep in through cracks in the cyber-wall and infiltrate our data. With that in mind, I don’t want to go whole hog here and say that Apple or the rest of the manufacturers of smart devices should immediately begin putting back doors into all our phones and other web enabled equipment. Not only are there concerns about Uncle Sam sniffing around where he shouldn’t be, but there’s the far more likely potential for hackers to make use of such gateways to our continued detriment.

But by the same token, let’s look at what the government is really asking for here. They’re obviously not saying they want such a pathway for all of our phones, no matter how much they covet such a thing. They’re asking Apple to create a new OS with this this ability and just install it on one phone. In exchange for this compromise, they might find out any number of things about our enemies. The same method could be used rapidly in the future whenever someone comes and blows up another group of innocent civilians while leaving a mostly intact phone behind.

Is there a risk to this? I suppose so, but how great is it? In order to use such a back door on anyone else, hackers would need to install a new operating system on the victim’s phone before they could crack it. Is that even possibly without you knowing it? I know that upgrading the OS on my phone takes quite a while and it’s very obvious when it happens. Assuming that Tim Cook is on the side of the Good Guys, can he not be trusted with holding on to this cracked code inside Apple’s vaults or to let us know if it gets loose and issue a patch to prevent hackers from using it?

This may not be an obvious or easy call, particularly when privacy concerns are taken into account, but Apple has a responsibility to be good citizens of the country where they do business, as well as taking care of their customers. If they have it in their power to help break up potential ISIS infiltration into the country, it seems to me they should do it.