Apple received an order from a U.S. judge on Tuesday to help the FBI unlock the phone recovered from one of the San Bernardino shooters, says a report from Reuters. The court order comes amid an ongoing dispute between tech companies and law enforcement over the limits of encryption.
Court asks for “technical assistance” from Apple
On Friday, Judge Sheri Pym of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled that Apple must provide “reasonable technical assistance” to investigators to unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Rizwan Farook, who is one the shooters. The technical assistance asked includes disabling the phone’s auto-erase function, which is activated after 10 consecutive unsuccessful passcode attempts.
On Dec. 2, Farook and his wife went on a shooting rampage in which 14 people were killed and 22 others were injured. The two were killed in a police shootout. As of now, there has been no comment from Apple. If the iPhone firm feels that compliance with this order would be “unreasonably burdensome,” then it should contest the order in five business days, Pym said.
On Tuesday, the court received a request from federal prosecutors in Los Angeles to compel Apple to assist investigators. The FBI is trying to figure out if the couple had any potential communications with the Islamic State or other militant groups and is treating the case as an incident of domestic terrorism.
Arguments for and against
A similar case happened last year when Apple clarified to a federal judge in New York that unlocking iPhones running on iOS 8 or newer was impossible. The prosecutors said that Farook’s phone ran on iOS 9. Apple can still help investigators by disabling non-encrypted barriers that it coded into its operating system, however, said prosecutors.
Prosecutors said, “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”
U.S. government officials have issued a warning that the expanded use of strong encryption is a hindrance to national security and criminal investigations. However, technology experts and privacy advocates say that if U.S. companies are forcibly made to weaken their encryption, then the private data of users will become vulnerable to hackers. In late 2014 after leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, both Apple and Google adopted strong default encryption.