Justice Dept. questions Apple’s motives in refusing to help FBI – Los Angeles Times

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The battle over Apple’s refusal to give the FBI the tools to unlock a terrorist’s smartphone escalated sharply Friday when the government urged a federal judge to immediately compel the tech giant to comply, arguing that it appears more concerned with marketing strategy than national security.

In a 35-page filing aimed at public opinion as much as the judge, Justice Department lawyers questioned Apple’s motivation for defying U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym’s order this week to help the FBI open Syed Rizwan Farook’s encrypted iPhone 5c.

The government argued Friday that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook’s public Feb. 16 letter declaring, “We oppose this order,” should be taken as the company’s response.

Apple’s refusal, they wrote, “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy,” not a legal rationale.

Apple technicians told investigators they could write the software the FBI wants to unlock Farook’s phone, and technology providers previously have written code to comply with subpoenas and court orders, according to the filing.

“Apple rejected the government’s request, although it conceded that it had the technical ability to help,” the filing states. It also says Apple’s public statements have been misleading.

Pym gave Apple until next Friday to respond, and set a hearing for March 22 in U.S. District Court for Central District of California in Riverside.

In a conference call with reporters, senior Apple executives, speaking on condition that they not be identified or quoted, said the government’s motion was designed to get media attention. They described the FBI’s request as overreaching by the government.

The executives denied that the decision to fight Pym’s order was about marketing, insisting they are acting to protect customers’ privacy. Complying, they said, would create a back door to breach the iPhone’s security features.

It’s unclear what help, if any, the contents of Farook’s phone might provide investigators. Nearly seven weeks of potential messages, texts, photos and data are missing — from Oct. 19, when Farook last uploaded his phone to iCloud, to Dec. 2, when he carried out a shooting rampage at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

No evidence has surfaced so far to indicate Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were in contact with terrorists, or had received outside support, before the attack, which left 14 people dead. The couple were later killed in a shootout with police.

Apple and its supporters say the dispute isn’t over the unknown contents of one phone, but about the government trying to establish a precedent that it can force a company to hack its customers’ devices.

That could open floodgates for requests from local, state and federal prosecutors, they warn, and cripple customers’ confidence in Apple products, especially in lucrative overseas markets where distrust of government surveillance is higher.

Apple’s advocates fear that giving in to the FBI now ultimately would help criminal hackers and authoritarian governments, which might use the software to trace secret communications of political opponents and human rights activists.

The issue inevitably landed in the presidential race, as GOP candidate Donald Trump said Americans should not buy Apple products until the company agrees to help the FBI unlock Farook’s phone.

“What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such time as they give that security number,” he said Friday.

Justice Dept. questions Apple’s motives in refusing to help FBI – Los Angeles Times