LOS ANGELES — The standoff between Apple and the U.S. government over data security may be escalating: The tech company is working on an iPhone firmware update that would make it impossible to circumvent user passwords in the way a court has ordered Apple to do to assist an FBI terrorism investigation, according to a report.
The new security measure would prevent iPhones from allowing system software updates that disable the devices’ built-in security features, the New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources.
Apple is refusing to comply with a U.S. federal judge’s order that it assist the FBI in accessing data on an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last December.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said the U.S. government is demanding the company invent a new “back door” into the iPhone, a step he said the company is refusing to take because it would potentially compromise millions of customers’ smartphones. The Department of Justice has countered that Apple’s defiance stems from concerns over marketing, and that the government’s interest is confined to accessing data on the iPhone in this one case.
Producing such software is something “we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer,” Cook said in an interview Wednesday with ABC News. “We think it’s bad news to write. We would never write it; we have never written it.”
Apple engineers began developing the stronger iPhone security measures before the San Bernardino massacre, according to the Times report.
On Wednesday, White House staff members met with executives from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to discuss ways of fighting terrorism on social networks, per the New York Times.
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Most Americans support the U.S. government’s position in the case. According to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday, 51 percent of those surveyed said Apple should unlock the iPhone to assist the ongoing FBI investigation, while 38 percent said Apple should not in order to ensure the security of other users’ information; 11 percent did not have an opinion.