Apple CEO Timothy Cook returns from a break in his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Investigations Subcommittee about the company's offshore profit shifting and tax avoidance in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images
By Alex Fitzpatrick
February 17, 2016

Apple CEO Tim Cook is challenging a federal court order demanding his company help investigators unlock an iPhone used by an assailant in a recent deadly attack. The Cupertino, Calif. firm’s response sets up a battle that could provide a high-profile stage for a long-simmering debate over technology companies’ role in assisting law enforcement groups.

The iPhone in question belonged to one of the attackers in December’s deadly shootings in San Bernardino, Calif, which left 14 people dead. The device is protected by a password, as well as a security feature which would delete the iPhone’s contents if the wrong code is entered more than 10 times.

The court order demands that Apple devise a way to bypass that mechanism, allowing investigators to guess passwords until the correct sequence is discovered.

Cook on Tuesday posted a letter to Apple’s website explaining his company’s decision to challenge the court order. In it, the chief executive argues creating such a workaround will make every other iPhone more vulnerable to hackers and thieves.

Read Cook’s letter in full below:

Write to Alex Fitzpatrick at alex.fitzpatrick@time.com.

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