Here are some of the main issues in the Apple encryption case:

WHAT DID THE JUDGE DECIDE?

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, a former federal prosecutor, ordered Apple Inc. to help the FBI hack into an encrypted iPhone used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in December in the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Prosecutors say they don’t know whether anything relevant is on the phone but can’t access the information because they don’t know the password.

WHAT MAKES THIS RULING IMPORTANT?

Federal law enforcement and leading technology companies have long been at an impasse about how to balance digital privacy for consumers against the responsibility of federal agents and police to investigate crimes or terrorism. .

HOW’S APPLE SUPPOSED TO HELP?

The judge’s order forces Apple to create and supply highly specialized software that the FBI can load onto the iPhone. That software would bypass a self-destruct feature that erases the phone’s data after too many unsuccessful attempts to guess the passcode. The FBI wants to be able to try different combinations in rapid sequence until it finds the right one.

WHAT IMPACT WILL THIS HAVE ON OTHER APPLE USERS?

The Justice Department said it’s asking Apple only to help unlock the iPhone used by Farook. The judge said the software should include a “unique identifier” so that it can’t be used to unlock other iPhones. But it’s unclear how readily the software could be adapted to work against other phones. And the FBI would likely share its new tool with U.S. intelligence agencies – and possibly foreign allies – that are investigating global terrorism.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, warned, “Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks – from restaurants and banks to stores and homes.”

WHAT DID APPLE SAY?

The government asked the judge to rule in its favor in a 40-page court filing submitted without Apple’s participation. After Pym’s order, in a strongly worded message to its customers early Wednesday, Cook warned that the judge’s order would set a “dangerous precedent.” He said the company was being asked to take an “unprecedented step” that would threaten the security of Apple’s customers.


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