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Apple vs The Fed: How Tim Cook Became a Bulwark for Digital Privacy, NYT

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The two sides of the Apple versus law enforcement debate are coming into sharper focus.

On one side is Timothy D. CookApple’s chief executive, who has evolved into one of the world’s most outspoken corporate executives and moved the once-secretive company repeatedly into the spotlight on social issues, write Katie Benner and Nicole Perlroth.

Mr. Cook sees privacy as a customer right and thus felt he had little choice but to take a public stand this week when a federal court ordered Apple to help authorities break into the iPhone of one of the attackers in the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

On the other side are law enforcement officials, including attorney generals, the Justice Department, federal prosecutors and others. Many of these authorities have been sounding the alarm that Apple’s iPhones, which use encryption, are counterproductive to investigations because information cannot be accessed. The iPhone in the San Bernardino attack became the perfect case on which to press Apple on the issue, write Matt Apuzzo, Joseph Goldstein and Eric Lichtblau.



That stance crystallized on Tuesday when Mr. Cook huddled for hours with lawyers and others at Apple’s headquarters to figure out how to respond to a federal court order requiring the company to let the United States government break into the iPhone of one of the gunmen in a San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting. Late Tuesday, Mr. Cook took the fight public with a letter to customers that he personally signed.

“We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government,” wrote Mr. Cook, 55. “Ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”


Mr. Cook’s views on privacy hardened over time as customers globally began entrusting more personal data to Apple’s iPhones. At the same time, Apple was growing tired of requests from government officials worldwide asking the company to unlock smartphones.

Each data-extraction request was carefully vetted by Apple’s lawyers. Of those deemed legitimate, Apple in recent years required that law enforcement officials physically travel with the gadget to the company’s headquarters, where a trusted Apple engineer would work on the phones inside Faraday bags, which block wireless signals, during the process of data extraction.

Processing these requests was extremely tedious. More worrisome, the data stored on its customers iPhones was growing more personal, including photos, messages and bank, health and travel data.


 By the time Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, iOS7, in September 2013, the company was encrypting all third-party data stored on customers’ phones by default.

Apple’s eighth mobile operating system, iOS8, which rolled out in September 2014, made it basically impossible for the company’s engineers to extract any data from mobile phones and tablets.

For officials at the world’s law enforcement agencies, the new software was a clear signal that Apple was growing defiant. A month after iOS8’s release, James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., told an audience at the Brookings Institution that Apple had gone “too far” with the expanded encryption, arguing that the operating system effectively sealed off any chance of tracking kidnappers, terrorists and criminals.

Government agencies began to press Apple and other tech companies for so-called back doors that could bypass strong security measures. With tensions rising, some form of technical compromise — whether in the form of a chip, a back door or a key — was off the table by 2015. marketing-strategy.html

Apple’s refusal “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy” rather than a legal rationale, prosecutors said in a court filing that further escalated the confrontation between the Obama administration and Apple.

“This is not the end of privacy,” the Justice Department declared, a mocking reference to Apple’s rationale for contesting the court order prosecutors obtained from a judge directing Apple to help them break into the phone.

The sharply worded, 25-page motion to compel Apple’s cooperation seemed aimed as much at swaying public opinion as influencing the federal magistrate judge in Riverside, Calif., who issued the order to Apple.

Immovable object meet irresistible force.

I wonder who wins this struggle. 

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