Tim Cook Refuses To Comply With "Chilling" Government Demand To "Build A Backdoor" Into iPhone

Tyler Durden's picture

Following the December 2 horrific mass shooting in San Benardino, Judge Sheri Pym of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said on Tuesday that Apple must provide "reasonable technical assistance" to investigators seeking to unlock data on - in other words hack - an iPhone 5C that had been owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters.

Tim Cook has refused to comply.

The Apple CEO said his company opposed the demand from the judge to help the FBI break into the iPhone. Cook said that the demand threatened the security of Apple's customers and had "implications far beyond the legal case at hand."

It gets worse: in a letter to Apple's customers, Cook said the FBI had asked the company to build "a backdoor to the iPhone", and while this may not have been an issue in the pre-Snowden days, has become a very sensitive topic for a nation that realizes its government is intent on tracking its every move.

"The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals," he said. 

"We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack."

Cook's summary:

"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."

While we applaud Cook's rebelliousness, we wonder just how much of it is merely theater. After all as Snowden previously revealed, the NSA already has full access to all the iPhone data it needs. Recall from "NSA Mocks Apple's "Zombie" Customers; Asks "Your Target Is Using A BlackBerry? Now What?" where we noted something quite amusing:

the NSA itself mocks Orwell, using a reference from the iconic Apple "1984" advertisement...


... As it says the man who has become "Big Brother" is none other than AAPL's deceased visionary leader Steve Jobs...

... And is so very grateful for Apple's paying client "Zombies" who make its job so much easier



Lucky for Tim Cook, the American collective may have "secure" phones, but its memory lasts 15 minutes tops.

Here is the full Tim Cook note:

A Message to Our Customers

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.
The Need for Encryption

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

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. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

The San Bernardino Case

We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, 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.

The Threat to Data Security

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

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. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

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.
A Dangerous Precedent

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

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.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook

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Pool Shark's picture



"Tim Cook Refuses To Comply With "Chilling" Government Demand To "Build A Backdoor" Into iPhone"

Which means he's already built in a backdoor...


Let's face it: Tim Cook is a 'backdoor' man...


Silky Johnson's picture

I don't like the guy and I think that he lacks imagination, but that fagget is taking a stand. Hats off to him today.


Or they're just lulling us into a false sense of security.

Supernova Born's picture

Kaa the snake from Jungle Book.

Lull folks into thinking the iSpy has some kind of 4th Amendment or technological limits on what they can hoover.

JRobby's picture

The GOVT never backs down

"No one expects the Spanish inquisition"

VinceFostersGhost's picture



There is nothing they can't do......it's just a show.

philipat's picture

Never believe anything until it has been officially denied..

Supernova Born's picture

Big Tech only sells assless chaps to the plebs.

SamAdams's picture

I thought Zuckerberg already had the patent for, "We are fighting to ensure your rights. You can trust us!"...

Government needs you to pay taxes's picture

I'm too far gone down the path of cynicism and preparation to believe this for a nanosecond.  This is pure political theater, kind of like when a few senators propose a balanced budget or an 'audit the Fed' resolution.  I take Tim's words as an incremental warning of .gov's tyranny. Get rid of your iShit and dont upgrade to Windows 10 for free.

Raymond K Hessel's picture

They don't need this for technical reasons. They need it for legal reasons. So that they can say they obtained "the evidence" legally. They have the "evidence" for a lot of things today, it just wouldn't be allowed in court That's what this is all about. They cracked the phone and now they need the "show" of Apple having to help so that everyone is lulled into believing they don't have the wherewithal to crack your iPhone.

Trust this, space monkey. They have your data.

swmnguy's picture

You're right, RKH.  Of course they already have all the data from this phone, and any other phone they want.  This makes a perfect test case for them to establish a legal precedent.  The two suspects are dead, the case is over, they have the data.  There's really no controversy about forensic examination of phones after a crime has been committed.  The FBI's goal is to get a backdoor legalized proactively and permanently.

Dental Floss Tycoon's picture

" And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect."

Mr. Cook does not understand government.




ThroxxOfVron's picture

'Mr.' Cook pretends not to understand 'governmnet'.

eforce's picture

Perhaps this is being done on purpose so Barry gets to test out his new supreme court appointee.

Tarzan's picture

They need a back door because they can't figure out the 4 number pass code to get into the Islamist' phone?  Am I understanding this correctly?  They can't crack her phones 4 digit pass code? 

I'm thinking this is theater from both sides. 

To pull on our heart strings and exploit our fears, they use a couple Muslim killers to convince us it's in our best interest to give big brother the ability to surveil us on the fly. They want full access, the same access Apple has!

I've never heard this demand from the Government on any of the thousands of gang related murder cases in Chicago or Detroit.  They never made this demand to crack any other organized crime syndicate. 

What could we learn about the libor scandal by cracking into the cells of Tom Hayes' superiors?  Where are the calls for a back door in the case of Foreign Exchange Manipulation, where most of the major banks were fined Billions but no executive found responsible?  Lynch "declined to comment on criminal charges against individual bank employees, saying only that the Justice Department's investigation is ongoing."

Who runs the world, Big Government or Big Corp?  This case and who wins this battle will be very revealing.

Apple has all the info on it's users, where we go, who we associate with, what we buy, and that info is VERY lucrative.  .gov wants a piece of that apple, they want to see like God sees!

XitSam's picture

No. If the government already had the data, they would be developing secondary sources for the gained information, for example, the NSA -> DEA intercepts. This is truly an attempt by the government to force a backdoor where one does not exist.

Arnold's picture

Just a courtesy, Mr Cook.



jwoop66's picture

Shit.... just wait till it is a "cliven bundy" type white guy the govt wants info on.....  Cook will accomodate post haste....


zeronetwork's picture

My question is why fbi waited for this demand until SC judge's death?

BennyBoy's picture

The NSA and the shooters phone company have all the records.


Just demonizing Apple for future tax pummeling.

Deus Irate's picture

It's the other way around: This is yet another clumsy attempt to fluff apple stock. There are no secure operating systems aside from personalised Linux, so there can be no "stand" against anything besides the truth.

DontGive's picture

How soon we forget: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-12-30/how-nsa-hacks-your-iphone-prese...

This is old news.








Per Vice link:

Some victims will go public if they feel they’ve been compromised. But according to Sturrock, for most corporate brass there’s little incentive to kick up a fuss. “The companies don’t like it, because, first, it reflects badly on management, and second, talking about it could cause shareholders to get nervous, triggering a sell-off and a slide.”

“Two million’s not a bad sum,” he says, talking me through the kind of fees corporate spies can receive. “Two million buys a lot of capacity. You could keep people under surveillance. You could buy a lot of computer software. Often it’s still the more old-fashioned ways. Ultimately, you’re back to the question 'Who is a spy?' Well, there are many reasons anyone might start informing. Often it’s pure ego, but equally, if you start giving someone manila envelopes of cash, you can change a lot of behavior. Or, on the flip-side, blackmail…"


Couple mil... Not a bad gig, but might be hazerous to your health. Watch out for nail guns.

Croesus's picture

@ Silky Johnson: 

Taking a stand against what? For pimping his product by claiming to be "pro freedom" with his supposed stand against government spying? 

Give me a fucking break, man. 

ALL of modern tech started out as 'government property'. Interwebs, microwave ovens, you name it. 

The first question scientists ask: 

"How can we use it, to kill people?" 

If it can't be used as a weapon, the next question asked: 

"How can we use it, to heal people?"

If it has no medical utility, the question then becomes, "Can we use it to watch people?" 

There's not a cell phone out there, that doesn't have utility as a spy device, since the technology itself is dependent on triangulating a signal (a.k.a. mobile phone tracking

The interwebs spy program, consists of spyware architecture, built directly into the backbone of the web itself, meaning that there's no such thing as "secure communications over the internet"; it's intercepted between points A and B.

Operation Carnivore is just one example of DotGov spying, which predates Snowden's (old news) revelations by years. 

The only thing Tim Cook is doing, is trying to pander his slave-labor produced bullshit, to people like us. Smell the coffee, bro. 

Mercury's picture

That's not the point.

Actually, whether or not the government should be allowed a "back door" to encrypted data on smartphones etc. is beside the point too.

Encryption is math and it's actually fairly simple math. If there is a war between the government and math, math will win. If Apple opens the Kimono on all its encryption algos, motivated persons will just use their own. It's not that hard.

Supernova Born's picture

Math is safe, however mathematicians can have a black hood over their head "tout suite"

When the mathematician has a proverbial (or otherwise) gun to his head the government wins.

"BOOM, that's the point, you never know."

Alonzo, Training Day.

Croesus's picture

@ Mercury and Supernova Born: 

Encryption won't stop it either; Has is ever occurred to anyone that the people designing it are already on the government payroll? 

Trust me, DotGov is better-funded than you are. 

15 years ago, I was working on chipsets that aren't even available to the public now. 

I thought I was pretty clear in saying that ALL of modern tech started out as government property...

DotGov doesn't care if you're texting dick pics to your side chick. 

Believe me when I say that I fully agree-with, and support the concept of individual privacy. I really do. 

Unfortunately, it will be impossible to maintain your privacy, while still having the latest tech bullshit. 

That is fact. 

If you want real privacy, go as absolutely low-tech as possible. The next wave of "cool gadget" crap is already here...a toaster capable of emailing your health insurance company an exact figure of how many times you had toast for breakfast. 

A refrigerator that can tell how much beer you consumed over the weekend. 

Total Information Awareness. 

Mercury's picture

Anyone who can add and subtract backwards and forwards to 26 can create an unbreakable code if each party has the same set of random numbers. It's inconvenient and a pain in the neck and has its drawbacks as all symmetric cryptographic systems do but it works, it has an extensive history "in the field" and such a system can be operated by a child.

More advanced, computer-assisted cryptographic systems get more complex from there of course but this will always be "square one".

Given this reality, if you want security in a modern, reasonably free society, the police state has limited effectiveness and after a point is self-defeating.

IndyPat's picture

..."DotGov doesn't care if you're texting dick pics to your side chick. "

Not entirely true. This content becomes a matter of keen interest if .gov wants to lean on you for whatever reason.

Mercury's picture

In my projected future scenario the San Bernadino shooters are the "mathematicians" and they're already dead.


The kind of surveillance powers that the government is hoping to attain here will be effective in terms of detailing which of their 700,000 laws and regulations you are breaking at any given moment but they won't be very effective in preventing a San Bernadino type incident. 

Croesus's picture

@ Mercury: 

There, we disagree. I'll share a short series of headlines with you, and please keep in mind that "Headlines" are already public information; the real "Meat" is under wraps. The actual technology extant is already years' past these points:  

Hitachi Says It Can Predict Crimes Before They Happen


Computers Can 'See' People's Dreams


Tracking people by their 'gait signature'


Facial Recognition



Some food for thought: DotGov, like any system of organization, seeks to classify and organize everyone, according to a criteria. The reason these systems fail at recognizing "San Bernadino shootings" like you mention, is because these systems are not capable of characterizing abnormal behavior...yet. 

In other words, they don't take an average measurement of a person's behavior, emotional state, etc., and measure it against that person's current behavior, and determine where that person's actions fit on a scale of "acceptable - stop them now".


Mercury's picture

Don't see anything about breaking code generated by a One Time Pad or technology that guesses what numbers are in a box.

The probability of San Bernadino-type shootings can be reduced dramatically and much more effectively by your great-grandmother's common sense without aid from any technology whatsoever.

Croesus's picture

The problem of "San Bernadino" style shootings can be solved by a well-armed population...but that's not really the subject we're talking about, which is encryption. 

Encryption can be easily cracked, by people with the technology and the know-how. 

My opinion in a nutshell is: 

The DotGov has "unlimited" checkwriting power; if they decide that "Mercury and Croesus are sending coded messages back and forth, and we want to know what they're saying"...then, they'll spend whatever it takes to crack it. 

They have access to plenty of brilliant mathematicians, and cryptographers, both outsourced, and on the payroll. 

The German government thought they had it locked with Enigma...need I say more? 

People like us, and our secret decoder rings are not going to be completely free from DotGov intrusion, unless we go completely low-tech. 

Technology is the problem, not the answer. 

On this point, we definitely agree. 

Mercury's picture

The 'One Time Pad' doesn't really involve technology but yes, as computers become more powerful they can factor larger numbers more quickly - which is the heavy lifting involved in breaking encryption. A code that can't be broken with today's technology may be crackable with tomorrow's technology but how is that not analogous to any other area of life?

Even if the government (or whomever) can break 1024 bit encryption (for example) today they can’t do it without concentrating huge amounts of their computer firepower on that one code, one time. That’s not the same thing as cracking all 1024bit encrypted traffic at will or all the time.

I suppose if the surveillance authority in question had significantly more computer power than all the other computing power in the world combined that would change the game but barring that there will always be more and bigger numbers than computer power.

Urban Redneck's picture

I'm feeling generous, so I'll dust off some really RETRO mid 1990's intellectual property that did not accept funding from In-Q-Tel and hence isn't subject to any .gov big bag-of-dicks gag order...

Steganography as discussed and practiced by the iCrap generation with their cute little apps actually misses the larger aim of HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT, as well as the opportunities for making Uncle Sam spin his wheels in a truly endless and futile wild goose chase...

Back before I became a bankster... I worked on a conundrum of how a "private" corporation could transmit data securely back to HQ from "unfriendly" countries with their own smaller NSAs...

What we came up with would best be characterized as basically applying the iCrap model of "steganography" to a superfluous Dolby® x.1 channel in those ancient/inefficient video compression algorithms and then ET would stream back home a fuck-ton surveillance camera footage (or porn if the local grand poobahs weren't prudish wackos). In the digital sense it looked like any other video stream, and in the analog world if you pumped up the volume even on a kick ass sub-woofer, the human ear couldn't discern the difference...


Back then streaming video was both a rarity and an expensive proposition (thousands of dollars per month, per stream).

Today, streaming data is everywhere, all the time, and the same opportunities have actually increased exponentially (without even considering some of the TCP packet malformation opportunities). Given the narrow frequency spectrum associated with simple VOICE calls, it doesn't make much to shave a shave a few hertz at the margins and alter the 0's and 1's transmitted between points A & B.


Even the NSA's super data centers would melt down trying to apply the degree of analysis required to gather "everything" if enough people were utilizing enough variants, and the NSA could no longer "trim" the dataset because the "fat" contained the "juice"

FWIW... but if you want to run with it- I wouldn't talk to anyone from In-Q-Tel.

MrPalladium's picture

" DotGov, like any system of organization, seeks to classify and organize everyone"

"Seeing like a State" by James C. Scott, professor of agrarian science, Yale University.

A must read for anyone who wants to understand government surveilance of its people.

See also "The Art of Not Being Governed" by the same author.

Sokhmate's picture

Because such events are not organic and not meant to be recognized


The reason these systems fail at recognizing "San Bernadino shootings" like you mention, is because

gatorengineer's picture



You cant possibly be the Naive and survive.  The NSA has backdoors into everything already.  This is just Kabuki theather and a chance for Apple to con shills like yourself into thinking they are not a subsidiary of .gov.

Government needs you to pay taxes's picture

Liberty or death. . . for tyrants.

DblAjent's picture

This is his public statement. . . .

This is his pubic statement. . . . 

JRobby's picture

"The men don't know what the little girl understands"

DownWithYogaPants's picture

Is you a back door man?  

Yikes.  A kiss makes my day but anal makes my whole weak.

LordBuckFast's picture

Governments are criminal cartels that use the legal system that they created to further their agenda. If this does not 'persuade' a person to do as they are 'advised' then they will either be jailed or meet an untimely end!


This is an example of why we are finished, because we have seemingly lost the ability to see when something is wrong and then take collective action to stop it.......