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FAQ: Everything we know so far about Apple's battle with the FBI

Susie Ochs | Feb. 23, 2016
This is a complicated case that could stretch on for months, but we'll keep this updated as more news breaks.

At this writing, Apple’s battle with the FBI over how much it can and should help in the investigation of the San Bernardino shootings is less than a week old. But already it’s explosive to say the least. The government has accused Apple of being more concerned with marketing than the fight against terrorism, and Apple has drawn a line in the sand, saying that complying with the FBI’s request “would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

This fight isn’t going to be over anytime soon, so we’ll keep this FAQ updated as events unfold. If you have more questions—or want to respectfully debate the implications this case will have on privacy and security—please chime away in the comments and we’ll do our best to make everything about this confusing case as clear as possible.

Where does it stand right now?

The United States District Court for the Central District of California issued an order on February 16, giving Apple five business days to respond. Apple posted an open letter to customers on its website explaining its side of the case, prompting government attorneys to file a motion on February 19 disagreeing with Apple’s view of the situation, and asking the court to force Apple to comply.

A hearing is scheduled to take place in Riverside, CA, on March 22. Until then, the lawyers will file more motions, while the two sides also take their case to the court of public opinion. On Sunday February 21, FBI Director James Comey posted at Lawfire that we should "take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending." Apple updated its open letter on Monday February 22 to add its own FAQ on privacy and security.

The Basics

So the FBI has an iPhone 5c that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter, and they think it has evidence inside?

The iPhone 5c in question was used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, but it was his work phone, so it technically belonged to his employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Farook also had a personal phone as well as a personal computer, but he physically destroyed both before the December 2 shooting. Farook was killed in a firefight with police.

In the course of its investigation, the FBI wants to examine the iPhone 5c for evidence. The DOJ’s court filing from Friday February 19 reads:

The government has reason to believe that Farook used that iPhone to communicate with some of the very people whom he and [his also-deceased wife Tafsheen] Malik murdered. The phone may contain critical communications and data prior to and around the time of the shooting that, thus far: (1) has not been accessed; (2) may reside solely on the phone; and (3) cannot be accessed by any other means known to either the government or Apple.


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