Trump calls for Apple to ‘step up’ and unseal iPhones used by ‘killers, drug dealers’

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Apple CEO Tim Cook talked Mac Pro with President Trump
President Trump called on Apple to cooperate and unlock two iPhones belonging to a gunman who killed three in Florida in December.
Photo: White House

President Donald Trump called on Tuesday for Apple to “step up to the plate” and “help our great country” by unlocking the iPhones used by a Saudi aviation student that killed three people at a Florida Navy base in December.

In a tweet, Trump said the U.S. government helps Apple on trade and other issues, and that in return, the iPhone maker should “unlock” mobile phones used by “killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements.” 

Trump’s “TRADE” comment probably refers to the president negotiating a trade deal with China that could potentially save Apple billions of dollars.

The government’s story and Apple’s defense

The Tweet comes a day after U.S. Attorney General William Barr asked Apple to unlock the iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 used by gunman Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. Barr argued Apple had provided “no substantive assistance” and said, “it’s very important for us to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died.”

Apple denied Monday that it has not cooperated with U.S. federal authorities and in a written statement said “our responses to (the federal governments) many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.” The company also said it had provided “gigabytes” of data from cloud backups of the devices.

Apple argued in its statement that the demands of some to create a way for law enforcement to unlock mobile phones won’t solve the problem and gave no clear indication it was willing to compromise or comply with the government’s request, even for cases where terrorism or violence was involved.

“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” Apple executives wrote in the statement. “Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers.

Bloomberg News reported Tuesday the government is working on updating an internal tool is has used previously to break into and analyze the attacker’s handsets. 

In a statement Tuesday night, the American Civil Liberties Union said the Trump administration’s request of Apple was “dangerous and unconstitutional, and would weaken the security of millions of iPhones.”