The FBI asked Apple to create a backdoor to the iPhone. Their CEO just said no

Tim Cook called the request “chilling”

Usually, Apple is tight-lipped on policy. It speaks when it has a watch, or a phone or a tablet to launch: the mystery is consistent with the sleek lines of its products.

But today, Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an open letter to customers, in which he outlines the reasons for Apple’s refusal to comply with a certain demand made by the US government during the FBI investigation into the San Bernardino shooting at the end of 2015.

Cook speaks of the importance of encryption and keeping information away from hackers who can use it against us. He calls the FBI request “chilling”, and says that they amount to asking Apple to hack its own users.

“For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe,” Cook explains. “We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.”

He condemns unilaterally what happened in San Bernardino, and explains that Apple has worked with the FBI, providing data that is “in our permission”. “We want justice for all those affected,” he says.

“We have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them.

“But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

“Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

“The FBI 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 backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

He explains that this “ignores the basics of digital security” and that once there is a way to bypass encryption, then that encryption is defeated.

“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.

“We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.”

You can Cook’s letter in full here.