Apple-FBI Showdown Intensifies

The ongoing Apple-FBI showdown is heating up, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation putting even greater pressure on the company, reported the Wall Street Journal. In a developing case that promises to set a lasting precedent, the Justice Department reportedly filed a motion last Friday labeling Apple’s refusal to open an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters as part of the company’s ongoing “marketing strategy.”

The motion reportedly asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym to force Apple to comply a previous order to help unlock the iPhone, but according to federal prosecutors, it was not actually legally necessary. Instead, the motion’s main purpose was to counter a very public letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook, which blasted the government for attempting to force the company’s hand.

“Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.”

According to Reuters, Apple now has until February 26 to tell the FBI exactly why it should not have to comply with the original court order. In response, Apple has reportedly obtained legal counsel, hiring Theodore Olsen and Theodore Boutrous, two respected free-speech attorneys who have been involved in landmark political cases involving Citizens United and a variety of media organizations.

“Apple Inc. will likely seek to invoke the United States’ protections of free speech as one of its key legal arguments in trying to block an order to help unlock the encrypted iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.”

The move puts the tech giant directly at odds with the Obama administration in a showdown that is only bound to intensify before it reaches a resolution. At play are topics ranging from computer security and encryption to terrorism, as well as questions surrounding the privacy of smartphones and social media.

To recap, the FBI is demanding that Apple develop software that will allow it to access secure data on the iPhone of a shooter involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks last December. As the Guardian reported, Apple has refused (so far) to comply, stating that simply creating the ability to access the phone would effectively create a new “backdoor” to all iPhones.

The FBI showdown with Apple was actually many months in the making. More than a year ago, high-up Justice Department officials told Apple that “someday there would be a crucial case involving a locked iPhone and a missing or murdered child,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Also, Obama administration officials also met with major tech executives in early January to discuss the rise of internet and smartphone usage among terror organizations for recruitment and planning. Apple, Facebook, and Twitter all confirmed that representatives attended the meeting, which was also rumored to include execs from Google, YouTube, Dropbox and Microsoft, reported USA Today.

The meeting reportedly included a discussion about the role technology firms can play to make it more difficult for terrorists to use the Internet’s power, as well as ideas regarding how those same companies can help others create, publish and amplify content to undermine the Islamic State’s online presence.

Technology companies began ramping up efforts to improve encryption – and Apple initially decided to redesign its products so even its own experts could not obtain a user’s data – in response to the Snowden scandal after his revelations demonstrated that U.S. national security was lacking in delegated oversight.

“[Apple’s response] embodied an ethic that said: ‘You don’t have to trust us; you don’t have to trust the democratic oversight processes of our government. You simply have to have confidence in our math.'”

[Photo by Ken Ishii/Getty Images]