In a potentially major blow to the security of personal data, a federal judge has ordered Apple Inc. to help with decoding the cellular phone of the San Bernardino gunman.
The FBI brought the case, demanding that the California-based software giant grant federal law enforcement access to the government-owned iPhone 5c of county-employee Syed Farook.
The device has a variety of secure-communications features designed to frustrate snooping attempts by the state and Apple had refused to help the FBI.
Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to give the FBI highly specialized software that overrides an Apple encryption feature that erases data after too many unsuccessful attempts to unlock the phone’s passcode, which federal prosecutors do not know.
“Despite … a warrant authorizing the search, the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content,” 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,” they said.
While iPhones can continue to send encrypted data, Apple and other technology companies have resisted efforts by law enforcement to grant authorities a “back door” into their user data.
Judge Pym’s decision potentially sets a precedent that law-enforcement needs can override the latest security features and force cooperation burdens on the company.
Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people at his San Bernardino workplace after having been inspired to jihad by the Islamic State. They were killed in a gun battle later that day.