Apple Legal Chief Eviscerates ’Cheap Shot Brief’ As FBI Threatens To Demand iOS Source Code

The battle between Apple and the FBI over unlocking the iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino mass shooters is getting nasty — really nasty. Although Apple and the U.S. Government are set to see each other in court on March 22nd, the two have been playing up their respective sides of the story to the public for weeks.

But the FBI has upped the stakes in a 43-page brief penned by Eileen M. Decker, U.S. Attorney; Patricia A. Donahue, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Chief of the National Security Division; and Tracy L. Wilkison, Chief, Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section. The brief levels numerous accusations against Apple in what the government sees as an effort by Apple to cloud the circumstances surrounding the case as it seeks a resolution to the “unlocking” situation.

Ever since Apple was ordered to unlock the iPhone in question by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, the Cupertino, California-based company has gathered some high-profile friends including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. However, the government clearly isn’t impressed by the amicus brief filed on Apple’s behalf by the Silicon Valley elite.

apple bruce sewell
Apple General Counsel and Senior Vice President Bruce Sewell

"Apple and its amici try to alarm this Court with issues of network security, encryption, back doors, and privacy, invoking larger debates before Congress and in the news media. That is a diversion. Apple desperately wants—desperately needs—this case not to be 'about one isolated iPhone,’” the letter reads.

The brief also goes on to say that Apple’s contention that unlocking Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c would lead to a slippery slope, allowing for further overreaches by the government in the future, as disingenuous at best. “[It is] not only false, but also corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights."

But perhaps the most troubling part of the document [to Apple] is the government’s statements that it could simply force Apple to hand over its source code if it doesn’t comply with the unlocking demands. “The FBI cannot itself modify the software on Farook’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature.

“The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labour by Apple programmers.”

With the iOS source code, the FBI wouldn’t need further assistance from Apple to get what it wants by forcing Apple to modify its operating system to appease government requests — the government could do it on its own. It’s commentary like this which lit a fire under Apple General Counsel and SVP Bruce Sewell.

iPhone 5c

"It seems like disagreeing with the Department of Justice means you must be evil and anti-American." said Sewell during a conference call with reporters yesterday afternoon. “The tone of the brief reads like an indictment. We’ve all heard director Comey and Attorney General Lynch thank Apple for its consistent help in working with law enforcement. Director Comey’s own statement… that there are no demons here? We certainly wouldn’t conclude it from this brief.

“Look, we know there are great people in the DOJ and the FBI. We work shoulder to shoulder with them all the time. That’s why this cheap shot brief surprises us so much.”

Apple’s day in court is just over a week away, and by the looks of the pre-game festivities, it appears that we’re in for some real fireworks in the courtroom.