Apple Asked to Break Into San Bernardino Terrorists' iPhone

Posted: Feb 17, 2016 7:30 AM

I wrote a few days ago about how the FBI still hadn't been able unlock the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists who killed 14 people in an attack on December 2 in San Bernardino, CA. Now, a judge has ordered Apple to unlock the phone so that its contents can be examined. A current security feature would erase the contents of the phone if the wrong password is entered too many times.

The ruling from U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym requires Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to the FBI, namely, software that can disable the security feature that erases data from the iPhone after too many unsuccessful attempts to unlock it.

Federal prosecutors told the court they could not access the phone used by Farook because they don’t know his passcode. With the security feature disabled, they can attempt as many combinations necessary to unlock the iPhone.

The iPhone in this case was not the property of Farook, but of his employer, San Bernardino County, which consented to the search.

While I agree that the phone should definitely be examined as to better find out what the terrorists were doing in their final days, I also agree that there are legitimate concerns with setting this kind of precedent. There's nothing to stop someone from lifting the "master key" unlock program and violating everyone's privacy. Now, granted, this is definitely an unusual case, but it will be very interesting to see if Apple complies with the demand.