Apple CEO Tim Cook is reportedly assembling a team of top advisers to work with him to defend the Cupertino firm’s encryption policies as a legal battle with the Department of Justice looms on the horizon.
The New York Times, citing “sources familiar with the matter,” reports Cook has quietly assembled a team of top advisers to consider Apple’s legal options as the company publicly works to ease concerns over its reluctance to aid government law enforcement agencies to break thru the iPhone’s built-in encryption tech.
United States Attorney General William Barr on Monday publicly asked Apple to help unlock the iPhones used in the mass shooting last month at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida. The iPhones were used by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the Saudi Air Force cadet that shot and killed three sailors and injured eight others in an attack at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., in December.
U.S. President Donald Trump also tweeted on Tuesday, urging Apple to “help our great Country, NOW! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
As it has in other investigations, Apple has declined to unlock or create an encryption backdoor into the iPhones used during criminal activity, saying that by doing so it would threaten customer security.
In a lengthy statement released on Monday, the company said it is cooperating with the FBI by handing over Alshamrani’s user data including iCloud backups, account information and “transactional data” for multiple accounts linked to the shooting. Apple promised to continue cooperating with the agency but said that cooperation would not include the creation of a backdoor.
Apple executives are reportedly surprised at how quickly the situation with the FBI escalated, especially since some members of Cook’s hastily assembled team of experts believe the Department of Justice didn’t exhaust all of its options before asking Apple for help.
While The Times says Cook’s team is working to create a plan that will result in a solution that will not require Apple to break its own security, Barr and other government officials claim they have exhausted all outside options and are stalled without Apple’s help.
“The FBI’s technical experts — as well as those consulted outside of the organization — have played an integral role in this investigation,” an FBI spokeswoman told The Times. “The consensus was reached, after all efforts to access the shooter’s phones had been unsuccessful, that the next step was to reach out to start a conversation with Apple.”
Alshamrani attempted to destroy his devices – he actually put a bullet into the iPhone 7 Plus he used – but the FBI was able to salvage them and turn them on. However, without the devices’ passcodes, they cannot unlock the devices to view their information.
“Apple designed these phones and implemented their encryption. It’s a simple, front-door’ request: Will Apple help us get into the shooter’s phones or not?” a DOJ spokesperson told the publication.
Security experts told The Wall Street Journal that third-party companies, including Cellebrite and Grayshift, could aid the government in accessing the data on Alshamrani’s handsets. The FBI has not announced what tools it has so far used in its attempts to unlock the devices.