As the deadline for Apple to respond to a court order to help the FBI unlock an iPhone, both sides are upping the level of their rhetoric, with Apple CEO Tim Cook saying “this is not what should be happening in this country.”

In an interview Wednesday, Cook said that the company has refused to do what the FBI asks–which is to create a custom version of iOS to bypass some security protections on the iPhone–because it views the request as a dangerous precedent, one that could lead to an unknown number and variety of other demands from law enforcement.

“If a court can ask us to write this software, think about what else they could ask us to write. Maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for law enforcement to turn on the camera,” Cook told ABC News.

“I don’t know where this stops, but I do know this isn’t what should be happening in this country.”

At issue in the case is the FBI’s desire to access data on an iPhone 5C that was used by Syed Farook, one of the alleged shooters in the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., in December. The phone is protected by a passcode and the FBI got a court order demanding that Apple help the bureau bypass the passcode by installing a custom version of iOS on the phone. Apple has said the request amounts to a back door and has refused to comply with the order thus far.

“I do know this isn’t what should be happening in this country.”

On Thursday, FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee and said that the Apple problem was the most difficult one he’s come across. He said that law enforcement agencies routinely use court orders, warrants, and subpoenas to get information in criminal and terrorism cases, and limiting that ability could have broad effects.

“If we’re going to move to a world where that’s not possible anymore, the world will not end, but it will be a whole lot different,” Comey said.

Apple filed its motion to vacate the court order Thursday afternoon, and said in the document that the assistance the government wants presents not only a huge technical challenge, but would set a dangerous legal precedent if the company complied. In the motion, Apple’s lawyers say that it would take six to 10 company engineers and other employees at least two weeks and maybe twice that long to create the backdoored version of iOS the FBI has asked for.

Meanwhile lawmakers are continuing to watch the case closely. There have been various efforts in Congress in the last year to forward bills that would weaken encryption systems in one way or another, but none has succeeded. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Comey this week asking him to withdraw the FBI’s demands on Apple, and on Thursday said the questions at stake in the case should not be decided in a court.

“This is an issue that should be decided by the American people, the stakeholders, and Congress,” Lieu said in an interview on CNBC.

He added that the arguments the FBI is using about encryption aiding terrorists and the Farook case being a one-off don’t hold water.

“There’s not a shred of evidence that weakening encryption systems would’ve prevented any terrorist attack, ever,” Lieu said. “It’s clear what the FBI is saying isn’t true. This is actually about multiple cases across America and this applies to any case with any iPhone.”

This story was updated on Feb. 25 to add information about Apple’s motion to vacate. 

Image from Flickr stream of Mike Deerkoski.

5 Comments

  1. > Are you saying when terrorists commit mass murder we shouldn’t spend any time investigating their activity or anyone else who could be involved?

    Rob, I hear you dude, but you are actually making a conflicted argument with a leading question *that cannot be answered*. If someone were to answer “yes” to that question, the outcome would be “he is saying when terrorist commit mass murder we shouldn’t spend any time investigating their activity”. If he said “no” to the question, the outcome would be “he is saying when terrorist commit mass murder we should spend time investigating their activity”, which then logically parses to “he is saying when terrorist commit mass murder we should do anything to investigate their activity”.

    He’s not going to answer “no” to that question, given we don’t have unlimited amounts of time to spend on stopping ALL terrorist activities. If you try to shortcut it with a hack, hackers will get their hands on it and then hack some old lady’s thermostats and kill them by freezing them to death. (no, I’m not kidding). If he answers yes to that question, you get to keep rah, rah, rah’ing, which maybe works for you.

    As for me, well I think when you continuing to pass these illogical ideas around, you spread the idea among other people who don’t spend much more time than you took to write your comment thinking through the problem in a logical way and end up gumming them up in similar logic circles.

    If you actually sat with yourself for a second and thought about it, you might see the logic without fearing the outcome.

    The problem with these logical circles is that they never end, and what you actually end up doing is slowing down the awesomeness of what America was in the past, all the while forgetting that we were founded on the idea of basic freedoms first and foremost. We came here to “get away from it” and now here it is again. Deal with it.

    And FWIW, you can bet your ass there’s a few of us out here continuing to poke holes in your illogical (and frankly lazy) arguments and actually figure out the real answer that help minimize asshat activity AND restore a way to our freedoms at the same time. Nobody around here supports asshats, including me and you.

  2. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

  3. Serbian Summer

    Rob — so this coward (don’t use the word terrorist — it’s too embowering for the scum they are) was obviously being financed by others. A better option would be to track his money and purchases — How was he purchasing items? What was being delivered to his house? — Do you think he was actually using his phone to communicate with the scum on the other side? Check his app store purchases (don’t need to hack a phone to do that) What third-party messaging apps was he using? What was being shipped to his house? Saying Tim Cook supports terrorists is inherently ignorant — you’ve been listening to Alex Jones too much

  4. What “shouldn’t be happening in this country”, huh? Are you saying when terrorists commit mass murder we shouldn’t’ spend any time investigating their activity or anyone else who could be involved? You saying we should just allow it to occur because we’re too afraid of interfering with a dead terrorists’ privacy?? Ridiculous!! Tim Cook has made it very clear that he is friend to all terrorists, murderers and pedophiles! He will tirelessly defend their malicious use of their super secure phone and there’s nothing anyone can do about it! Way to go! Terrorists win!

  5. If a corporate giant like Apple could be conscripted into working against its will without even being compensated, how would ordinary citizens like myself have the slightest chance against a legal threat like that? When can I expect your agents to grab me off the street and drag me to the gulag with the rest of your slaves, Mr. Comey?

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