In his statement, Mr. Cook called the court order an “unprecedented step” by the federal government. “We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” he wrote. . . .Here is a fundamental question to put to everyone in our democratic society: do citizens have a right to private communications, or not? Because as Cook says, it is very difficult to design a security system that is robust in most ways but easy to crack when the government wants to do it. Security that is very effective against hackers and Chinese agents would also be very effective against the NSA. What do we care more about?
The F.B.I. said its experts had been unable to access data on the iPhone 5c and that only Apple could bypass its security features. F.B.I. experts have said they risk losing the data permanently after 10 failed attempts to enter the password because of the phone’s security features.
The Justice Department had secured a search warrant for the phone, owned by Mr. Farook’s former employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, which consented to the search. Because Apple declined to voluntarily provide, in essence, the “keys” to its encryption technology, federal prosecutors said they saw little choice but to get a judge to compel Apple’s assistance.
Mr. Cook said the order amounted to creating a “back door” to bypass Apple’s strong encryption standards — “something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.”
In 2014, Apple and Google — whose operating systems are used in 96 percent of smartphones worldwide — announced that they had re-engineered their software with “full-disk” encryption, and could no longer unlock their own products as a result.
That set up a confrontation with police and prosecutors, who want the companies to build, in essence, a master key that can be used to get around the encryption. The technology companies say that creating such a master key would have disastrous consequences for privacy.
“The F.B.I. may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a back door,” Mr. Cook wrote. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
The Justice Department has asked Congress for guidance on exactly this point, but Congress has not taken up the problem. I suppose that is both because it is a hard problem and because whatever they do will piss off a highly motivated group of voters.
My guess is that we will eventually decide that unbreakable security is just too dangerous for wide distribution, and we will require that common security software have back doors. But this is a problem we should face as a society, not leave to the action of a single Federal judge.