iPhone passcode

The Apple vs FBI encryption clash continues to ramp up, with the Department of Justice filing a motion today to force Apple to comply with the FBI’s request and make custom iPhone firmware that would let the FBI brute-force into an iPhone related to the San Bernardino attacks, via CNBC.

Although tech giants are generally taking Apple’s side on the matter, with the iPhone backdoor seen as a ‘dangerous precedent’, this is the first time the DoJ has entered the conversation and it is clearly not on Apple’s side.

Via the New York Times, the Justice Department claimed Apple’s refusal to cooperate was driven by marketing concerns and its public branding.

It said that Apple’s refusal to help unlock the phone for the F.B.I. “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy,” rather than a legal rationale.

The court has given Apple an additional three days to reply to the order, so the world anxiously awaits Apple’s next move in the case due on February 26th. The DoJ’s position means Apple will have more groups to battle, if it decides to uphold its stance of resisting the backdoor request. See the filing, in full, here.

Read Tim Cook’s original open letter about this issue from earlier in the week. It has since come to light that it was the FBI who forced the issue into the public eye; Apple had filed court orders to keep the issue private.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

To recap, the FBI wants Apple to make special firmware for the suspect’s iPhone that will remove the normal 1 hour delay between multiple PIN attempts. This will then allow the FBI to try every possible 4-digit PIN combination in order to brute-force entry into the device and retrieve the encrypted data. Apple says this is just the beginning and the precedent set here would let the government encroach further into user privacy over time.

The iPhone in the current case is an iPhone 5c, which lacks a fingerprint sensor or a Secure Enclave for additional security. However, Apple has said that the same technique the FBI wants to employ could be applied to Apple’s newer iPhones as well.

More coverage of the Apple/FBI case:

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About the Author

Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.