DOJ Motion May Put Apple in No-Win Position by Resisting iPhone Order
The DOJ filing also rebuts some specific claims made by Cook, including claims that the government may misuse any software used to modify the phone's settings or to retrieve the phone's information. "The software requested would not reside permanently on the subject device and Apple can retain control over it entirely," the motion says. "Moreover, to the extent that Apple has concerns about turning over software to the government so that the government can run the passcode check program, the Order permits Apple to take possession of the subject device to load the program in its own secure location, similar to what Apple has done for years for earlier operating systems, and permit the government to make its passcode attempts via remote access," the motion said in response to Cook's stated concerns. The motion makes a couple of other noteworthy points. One is that the government makes clear that Apple has helped obtain other information in this and other cases already without balking. Also, there is significant precedent in other cases where the courts have issued warrants for access to data stored on cell phones, and Apple and other phone makers have complied. The government contends that what's really at stake is Apple's marketing and business plans rather than any interest in protecting users against government intrusion. In this case, the user, Farook, is dead and in any case he wasn't the owner of the phone or the data, which belonged to the county government.But it may also be true that what Apple really needs is to be forced into providing the access so that the company isn't seen as providing the access willingly. In that case, what we really are witnessing is political theater being played out so the government can look tough and Apple can be shown not to be a willing partner. If the latter is the case, then it could be obvious on March 22 when the hearing takes place if the court tells Apple to obey the order or else and then does so. But if that's not the case, then March may mark the beginning of a difficult time for the company when its CEO gets charged under a selection of criminal statutes, and that's not a scenario that is likely to end well.
So what's really at stake here? I suspect that what Apple is really worried about is China. Apple has been able to tell its Chinese customers that the government can't access their data, and that it's safe from intrusion. Now Apple may have to eat its words because it will have demonstrated that it can indeed grant access to those locked iPhones.