Apple, FBI Amp Up the Rhetoric Over Mass Killer's Locked iPhone

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple releases an extensive FAQ explaining why it won’t comply with a court order to help investigators unlock a mass killer's iPhone.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has released a lengthy document explaining why the company is refusing to cooperate with the FBI as ordered by a California federal judge last week. In addition, Cook has released a series of statements explaining the same thing.

The FBI, meanwhile, has released a series of statements explaining that the agency isn't actually asking for all of the security compromises that Apple says it wants. FBI director James Comey posted a blog entry saying that he doesn't want master keys, encryption keys or anything like that.

Notably, Comey also suggests that maybe a little communication could go a long way. "Reflecting the context of this heart-breaking case," Comey wrote in the blog, "I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending, but instead use that breath to talk to each other."

Comey noted that the new technology being brought to light by this case also creates a tension between privacy and safety. "That tension should not be resolved by corporations that sell stuff for a living. It also should not be resolved by the FBI, which investigates for a living. It should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before."

For its part, Apple is finally admitting that it's possible for the company to create the tools necessary to provide access to the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, who killed 14 people and wounded 22 in a mass shooting at a county government building in San Bernardino, Calif. The cell phone involved actually belongs to the county government, not Farook.

So now, instead of saying that it can't help the government uncover any information contained on the phone, Apple is saying it won't. And that's a very big difference.

In what Cook calls his letters to Apple's customers, and in the FAQ that he released Monday to formally state the company's position, he repeatedly claims that nothing about Apple's stance is related to the company's future marketing efforts. But his own words seem to belie that position. Instead, Cook is saying that he's doing this for his customers, but it's those customers that Cook plans to sell iPhones to again.

In addition, Apple is tossing around assertions that that the government is asking for things that don't appear in the court order or in the FBI's subsequent motion. The government has made it clear and the court order confirms that the FBI isn't asking for a backdoor to iOS. Likewise, there's no request for a whole new rewrite of iOS. While Cook makes these claims, that's really all they are—claims.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...