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US Judge Orders Apple to Break into Mass Shooter’s iPhone

This week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered that Apple must help the federal government gain access into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino mass shooters — and Apple has not responded kindly.

In an open letter published on their website on February 16th, Apple CEO Tim Cook warns that the US government’s order presents a slippery slope that would ultimately threaten its customers’ trust in the company.

In the letter, Cook questions the moral and legal implications of Pym’s ruling. He argues that Apple’s customers use their iPhones to store personal information, which “needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.”

Pym had ruled that Apple must assist the FBI in breaking into Syed Farook’s encrypted iPhone, since his passcode remains unknown. But Apple is clearly reluctant to comply with the order, and their scathing open letter aims to start a public discussion about the relationship between personal privacy and national security — and whether the former must be compromised to achieve the latter.

While Pym’s order stipulates that Apple’s software needs to only unlock Farook’s iPhone, Apple has suggested that their software could potentially be used by the government to intrude on more customers’ privacy in future cases. Cook also noted that no software of this kind currently exists today.

Pym’s ruling also requires Apple to tell the court if it considers the order to be unreasonably burdensome. With the release of Apple’s letter, it remains to be seen if the public at large will consider Pym’s order to be a reasonable request to safeguard national security, or one that presents worrisome future implications for customers’ personal information.

For more on this story, visit CBC News.

Jessica Fishbein

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