Apple is fighting a court order obtained by the FBI, compelling the company to help investigators get into an iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook. You can read our extensive coverage here: Below are five most common questions about the legal clash.
  1. What is the FBI looking for on the iPhone?
    We don’t know what, if anything, is on it. Typically, investigators can get things like Facebook posts, web searches or some emails with a subpoena, but there may be, say, WhatsApp or iMessages that get encrypted once they’re sent or never-shared photos or contacts. Investigators have searched Farook's iCloud account, but backups to the cloud several weeks before the attack. The DOJ says it "has reason to believe" Farook used the phone to communicate "with some of the very people" he killed.
  2. Why does the FBI need Apple's help?
    Apple says it’s designed iPhone encryption so that even the company can’t crack it. So the FBI wants to see what’s inside by unlocking the phone’s PIN code, which they don’t know. A computer could figure it out, but iPhone security features prohibit automated attempts and would wipe the device clean after 10 incorrect guesses. The FBI wants to load new software to lift those security features and guess the PIN, but iPhones only accept software updates that come with Apple’s digital signature.
  3. Why doesn't Apple want to comply?
    The order seeks targeted software for the one phone, but Apple says once written, the code could be repurposed for other iPhones and could be asked for other investigations. Even if the code is completely wiped, Apple argues, American or foreign governments may try to compel Apple to recreate it, or it could fall in hackers’ hands. Apple also says the precedent of the government compelling a company to write new software to enable an investigation could later apply to other tech companies, too.
  4. How is the FBI trying to compel Apple to cooperate?
    The FBI is relying on a 1789 law called the “All Writs Act,” which has been used to compel companies to help in government investigations. It says that courts "may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." The DOJ says various companies, including Apple, have provided otherwise inaccessible information through All Writs orders, but Apple says the software request is an unprecedented use of the law.
  5. So... is the FBI asking for a "backdoor"?
    That’s how Apple has described this request, despite the government’s repeated objections. The court isn’t asking Apple to redesign its products or change technology on all iPhones to make their contents easier to access in government investigations, but Apple says once written, the software to override an iPhone’s security protections would amount to a master key.