Apple CEO Tim Cook: FBI Request Would Create ‘Software Equivalent To Cancer’

Apple CEO Tim Cook has responded to fierce criticism from certain quarters over the company’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook.

Families of victims of the San Bernardino terrorist said they were angry and confused at Apple’s stance, while Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has called for a boycott of Apple products over the issue. The FBI has suggested the stance is a marketing ploy.

Hard, But Right

Speaking to ABC News in the US to defend his decision. He said the FBI’s request to create a new operating system, was the “software equivalent to cancer”. Apple believes this new OS would constitute the creation of a backdoor (although some experts disagree and argue it is a one-off case), and has refused to co-operate.

“The only way to get information – at least currently, the only way we know – would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer,” said Cook. “We think it’s bad news to write. We would never write it. We have never written it – and that is what is at stake here. We believe that is a very dangerous operating system.”

The FBI had attempted to crack the passcode on Farook’s iPhone, but failed because Apple phone systems have a function that automatically erases the access key and renders the phone “permanently inaccessible” after 10 failed attempts.

When questioned if he had concerns about whether breaking into Farook’s iPhone would prevent future terrorist attacks, Cook responded very carefully.

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“Some things are hard, some things are right, and sometimes they are both,” said Cook. He also said that he believed Steve Jobs would have backed his stance if he was still alive, as Jobs would do nothing to put customers at risk.

Server Data

Cook said it was unfortunate that the FBI had not contacted Apple sooner about the iPhone, during the investigation in the aftermath of the shooting, pointing out the FBI had reset the iPhone’s iCloud password.

“When that is done, the phone will no longer backup to the cloud,” said Cook. “And so I wish they would have contacted us earlier so that would not have been the case.”

It should be remembered that the US authorities of course already have the legal ability to compel any company based in the United States to hand over any data on their servers. Indeed, Microsoft is currently fighting the US government on this very issue, over data held in Ireland. It appears Apple would have been prepared, albeit reluctantly, to hand over any data stored on its iCloud servers.

Cook has also criticised the way the case has been handed by US authorities, claiming it had only found out about the Department of Justice (DoJ) filing to force it to unlock the iPhone via the press. However the DoJ rejected that, and stated that Apple’s legal department were the first to know.Apple has until this Friday to respond to the court order.

It should also be noted that Apple’s refusal to create a new operating system that would allow the FBI to unlock the phone has been praised by its tech rivals including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. And opinion polls show an even split among the general public over the issue.

“This is not a position that we would like to be in” said Cook. “It is a very uncomfortable position. To oppose your government on something doesn’t feel good. And to oppose it on something that where we are advocating for civil liberties, that they are supposed to protect, it is incredibly ironic.”

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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