Computer code is like poetry, the company says
The world’s most valuable company filed its formal response to the FBI’s request that it help unlock a killer’s iPhone: No way.
We knew Apple would say that, after CEO Tim Cook has spent more than a week fighting the issue in the court of public opinion. What’s intriquing is how Apple said no.
We read through the 50-plus pages of legalese and found six of the most interesting arguments in the motion, in which Apple says it will not help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by one of the terrorists who killed 14 people in San Bernardino in December.
Overall, Apple says that opening the phone would force it to create a dangerous security backdoor that could jeopardize its customers’ private data.
Here are six of its arguments:
Programming is poetry
One leg of Apple’s argument is that the computer code it writes to run iPhones is a kind of speech, which should be protected under the First Amendment. In a filing linked to Apple’s motion, the company’s manager of user privacy even likened it to poetry.
“Writing software is an iterative, revision intensive, and mentally challenging task, just like writing essays, whitepapers, memos and even poems,” he said.
It would take a long time and resources
Apple CEO Cook said as recently as Wednesday night that he didn’t know how long it would take for the company to develop the tools the government is seeking. “We’ve never done it before, so I don’t know how long,” he said in an interview with ABC News.
Apparently, that changed within a day.
The company’s filing said that the new software the government is demanding “likely would necessitate six to 10 Apple engineers and employees dedicating a very substantial portion of their time for a minimum of two weeks, and likely as many as four weeks.”
The filing also said Apple would need to create full-time positions in a new “hacking” department to service government requests.
Hey, we just built and sold the thing
The company’s lawyers hit back at one of the main cases that the Justice Department used as support: a Supreme Court case known as United States v. New York Telephone Co.
That precedent requires that Apple be connected somehow to the crime in question.
“Apple is no more connected to this phone than General Motors is to a company car used by a fraudster on his daily commute,” the company’s lawyers said in the filing.
Even the government can’t protect itself from hackers
While Apple has argued the government’s request could endanger consumer privacy at large, the U.S. has said that it’s asking the company for something quite narrow: tools to crack one iPhone. FBI director James Comey wrote earlier this week that the agency “doesn’t want to… set a master key loose on the land.”
In its new filing, Apple says the U.S. is making that claim even though “the government itself falls victim to hackers, cyber-criminals, and foreign agents on a regular basis.”
Is invoking terrorism like crying wolf?
Apple has repeatedly said Congress should address the issue. The company goes further in its filing, accusing the government of purposefully skirting an open forum and raising the specter of terrorism to keep the debate behind closed doors.
“And more importantly, by invoking “terrorism” and moving…behind closed courtroom doors, the government sought to cut off debate and circumvent thoughtful analysis,” Apple’s lawyers say in the motion.
What’s next? The government asks drug companies to help execute criminals?
The company speculated about the implications of being for by the government to “do its bidding.”
“Under the same legal theories advocated by the government here, the government could argue that it should be permitted to force citizens to do all manner of things ‘necessary’ to assist it in enforcing the laws, like compelling a pharmaceutical company against its will to produce drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection in furtherance of a lawfully issued death warrant,” the company wrote in the motion.
It also questioned whether such a precedent could give law enforcement the authority to force a “journalist to plant a false story in order to help lure out a fugitive.”