A federal judge ordered Apple on Feb. 16 to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation bypass the iPhone's password protections. The company signaled its intent to refuse the judge's instructions in a letter posted by CEO Tim Cook shortly thereafter.
Apple's formal response is detailed and wide-ranging. But one argument is particularly notable: Apple says that complying with the judge's order would mean prosecutors across the country come out of the woodwork with similar demands, rendering the company's security measures useless:
The government says: “Just this once” and “Just this phone.” But the government knows those statements are not true; indeed the government has filed multiple other applications for similar orders, some of which are pending in other courts. And as news of this Court’s order broke last week, state and local officials publicly declared their intent to use the proposed operating system to open hundreds of other seized devices—in cases having nothing to do with terrorism. If this order is permitted to stand, it will only be a matter of days before some other prosecutor, in some other important case, before some other judge, seeks a similar order using this case as precedent. Once the floodgates open, they cannot be closed, and the device security that Apple has worked so tirelessly to achieve will be unwound without so much as a congressional vote.
The motion also contains several powerful metaphors, including the following (emphasis added):
...under the same legal theories advocated by the government here, the government could argue that it should be permitted to force citizens to do all manner of things “necessary” to assist it in enforcing the laws, like compelling a pharmaceutical company against its will to produce drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection in furtherance of a lawfully issued death warrant, or requiring a journalist to plant a false story in order to help lure out a fugitive, or forcing a software company to insert malicious code in its auto-update process that makes it easier for the government to conduct court-ordered surveillance.
The iPhone was used by to Syed Farook, one of two suspected assailants in terrorism-linked shootings on Dec. 2 that left 14 people dead.