San Francisco For Apple there could hardly be a more unpleasant case than this: Saudi Arabian soldier Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani shot three and injured eight American soldiers with whom he was training there at a Florida naval base in early December 2019. He had two iPhones.
After a month of investigations, US Attorney General William Barr classified the case as “jihadist terror” this week. He asked Apple to crack the encryption on the terrorist’s iPhone to check if he was in contact with terrorist groups. Alshamrani himself can no longer help. He is dead.
“We asked Apple for help unlocking the shooter’s phones,” Barr said in a press conference. “So far, Apple has not given us any serious support.”
Not only that, the company from Cupertino, California, is apparently even preparing for a lawsuit with the US government. According to a report by the New York Times (NYT), Apple boss Tim Cook is already advising the procedure with close friends. Top managers of the company should be surprised by the rapid escalation of the case, but they obviously don’t want to give up. Apple did not comment on the report.
The case is a disaster for Cook. The relentless protection of the privacy of its users is the heart of the 59-year-old and is considered Apple’s unique selling point among the otherwise so greedy Valley companies.
The otherwise so polite Cook can even get really belligerent on the subject: When asked in 2018 how he got stuck in the situation of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which was deep at the time FacebookBoss Mark Zuckerberg would behave, he etched: “I would not be in this situation.”
Trade dispute plays a crucial role
A dispute with Washington is particularly delicate because Cook is very concerned about a good relationship with US President Donald Trump in the Sino-American trade war. After all, Apple manufactures almost all of its devices in China and also sells large quantities of iPhones and iPads there – it’s worth billions of dollars. While Trump imposed tariffs of 25 percent on numerous goods, Apple received exemptions for ten products last September.
Cook maintains close contact with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and is ready to be used for photo opportunities. When Trump claimed in a Mac computer factory in Texas that had been in operation since 2013 that it had just opened, Cook was wrong and did not disagree.
Donald Trump has already made it clear where he is in the dispute between Apple and his Department of Justice. On Tuesday, he hit exactly where he hurts Apple: “We are constantly helping Apple with TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock the phones of murderers, drug dealers, and other criminal elements. You have to face the challenge and help our great country. NOW! ”He wrote on Twitter.
Apple emphasizes that its engineers are already working with the FBI on the case. They are apparently looking for ways to get the information on the cell phone without breaking the encryption. According to the NYT report, Alshamrani’s devices are relatively old iPhone models that can be cracked differently.
But the government apparently wants to set an example to force Apple to find a permanent solution: namely to install so-called back doors for government employees in the encryption of all iPhones. Allegedly, in order to be able to act faster in future terrorist attacks. But the back doors could also be used for other purposes.
Apple warns that such a back door could ultimately also be used by fraudsters or other unauthorized persons and that the encryption of the devices would therefore become invalid. When an argument with the government threatened after an attack in 2016, Cook warned that a back door in the iPhone would “undermine the freedoms that our government should protect”.
The difference: At that time the president was called Barack Obama and tariffs on Apple products from China were not an issue. Cook is at a lot more stake today.
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