A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Apple is to assist in retrieving data from the iPhone that was owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, who was one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack in December, killing 14 people.
Apple has told law enforcement in the past that they cannot decrypt any iPhone that runs iOS 8 or later. The iPhone in question is an iPhone 5C, which shipped with iOS 7, although it's not known at this time which version of iOS the device is currently using.
Apple must provide "reasonable technical assistance", which is clearly outlined as three things.
- It will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been disabled (allowing law enforcement to try unlimited PINs without the device erasing all user data).
- It will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT DEVICE.
- It will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any addional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple's hardware.
Apple is also not required to store any of the data that is extracted from the device. Storing user data is completely the responsibility of law enforcement.
This court order is the latest installment in the growing tension between law enforcement and technology companies. One example of this is that the state of New York has drafted a bill that would require technology companies to decrypt devices when requested by law enforcement.
On the other hand, technology companies have been arguing that if there's a back door for them to decrypt the device, hackers would be able to discover that back door as well. New York is allowing the public to vote on whether or not they support the bill.
Apple is obligated to comply with court orders. If this leads to law enforcement decrypting the device, it could set a precedent that while Apple can't or won't decrypt devices, they can provide workarounds that make it easier for law enforcement to do so.