Apple's Craig Federighi: Don't let the FBI Turn Back the Clock on Security

Apple isn't letting up on its public campaign to raise awareness in the fight to avoid complying with a court order for software the FBI can use to unlock an iPhone. The latest volley comes from Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi in a Washington Post op-ed claiming the FBI is trying to push the digital security clock back in time.

Apple's software boss speaks out against FBI iPhone unlocking orderApple's software boss speaks out against FBI iPhone unlocking order

The fight between Apple and the FBI started when the agency obtained a Federal Court order compelling the company to develop a version of iOS that bypasses the security features preventing brute force attacks on lock screen passcodes. Agents requested the altered iPhone operating system so they can hack into the phone Syed Farook had when he went on a shooting rampage with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killing 14 of their San Bernardino County coworkers and injuring 22 others.

Apple had been working with the FBI to get as much information from the iPhone as they could, but stopped short of creating a hackable version of iOS. The company said the court order was an overreach of government authority and a serious threat to privacy and security.

FBI Director James Comey along with Apple senior vice president and general counsel Bruce Sewell appeared before a House Judiciary Committee last week to share their thoughts on encryption, security, and law enforcement's place in our digital world. Apple also filed a formal objection to the court order and a motion to vacate.

Apple CEO Tim Cook condemned the court order, the company posted a public FAQ, Director Comey responded with his own open letter defending the FBI, and now Mr. Federighi is sharing his thoughts. His take:

It's so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013.

To be fair, we had good security in 2013, although that's a lot like saying we had good health care in 1970. We did, but what we have now is so much better. For iOS, that's a big thing because hackers are more sophisticated now and in many cases are capable of working around what used to be state of the art security.

Forcing Apple to create tools to bypass iOS security sets a dangerous precedent where law enforcement will push for their use in more and more cases, and at some point the code will slip free from the company's control into the wild. Once there, it'll be a free for all with hackers and other governments using them as they please.

"Great software has seemingly limitless potential to solve human problems — and it can spread around the world in the blink of an eye," Mr. Federighi said. "Malicious code moves just as quickly, and when software is created for the wrong reason, it has a huge and growing capacity to harm millions of people."

Apple plans to fight the court order as long as it can and other tech companies are coming to the company's defense. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and major tech companies all filed amicus briefs on Apple's behalf—and rightly so because the outcome of this case could have a major impact on every company encrypting customer data.

A world where our data is safe in name only doesn't sound like a very friendly place, nor does it seem like a place where privacy is protected. It sounds more like a world where governments and criminals run roughshod over or personal lives and data, and that's the kind of world the FBI is pushing for.