eDiscovery Daily Blog

Apple in Court Battle Over Access to San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone: eDiscovery Trends

In a case that pits national security vs. privacy concerns, a federal judge on Tuesday ordered Apple to give investigators access to encrypted data on the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, a court order that Apple has vowed to fight, accusing the federal government of an “overreach” that could potentially breach the privacy of millions of customers.

According to NBC News, in a 40-page filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles argued that it needed Apple to help it find the password and access “relevant, critical … data” on the locked cellphone of Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California on December 2.

The judge ruled that Apple had to provide “reasonable technical assistance” (that it had previously “declined to provide voluntarily”) to the government in recovering data from Farook’s iPhone 5c, including bypassing the auto-erase function and allowing investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords in their attempts to unlock the phone. Apple was given five days to respond to the court if it believed that compliance would be “unreasonably burdensome.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter late Tuesday, pledging to fight a judge’s ruling that it should give FBI investigators access to encrypted data on the device.

“We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone”, Cook wrote.  “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

Stating that creation of a tool to unlock the iPhone would be “the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks – from restaurants and banks to stores and homes”, Cook wrote that “[n]o reasonable person would find that acceptable.”  “Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.”

Yesterday, the Today show covered the dispute as its top story – even before covering the election and Donald Trump (imagine that!).  A link to the video and more on the story is available on the NBC News site here.  The experts interviewed on the show expected to court battle to continue for some time.

So, what do you think?  Does Apple have legitimate concerns or is it their duty to assist the government and create a tool to unlock the iPhone?  Please share any comments you might have with us or let us know if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.