Yesterday the FBI filed an order asking Apple to unlock the iPhone used by Tashfeen Malik, one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shooting incident, reports TechCrunch. The order is based on a 227 year old All Writs Act, which gives courts power to issue orders that do not fall under a pre-existing law.

In response Tim Cook published a letter on Apple’s website, that said that the company would challenge the order. Essentially, Cook mentions that it has already provided law agencies with what it could, and to unlock the phone further, it would have to update its operating system to allow access. This would essentially create a backdoor OS for iOS devices, which could then be theoretically used to unlock any iPhone.

Apple recently introduced a pin authentication which automatically wipes user data on a certain number of unsuccessful tries. Malik’s phone uses this feature, and to disable it, Apple will essentially have to create an alternate operating system that bypasses this security measure, and push it as an update. However, this code could then be used to unlock other iPhones as well, and it would be extremely hard to limit it to one device.

Complying with the ruling would also set a precedent for unlocking secure devices, and by extension, undermining encryption. According to Cook, the Government could “extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

Support for Apple: While slow to come, on the prompting of Edward Snowden among others, Google CEO Sundar Pichai also tweeted in support of Apple.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also retweeted out Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith’s tweet in favour of Apple.

Similarly, the Electronics Frontier Foundation came out in support for Apple, citing “the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone. And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security. Once this master key is created, governments around the world will surely demand that Apple undermine the security of their citizens as well.”

Also read: Why Tim Cook is right to call court-ordered iPhone hack a “backdoor”

About the All Writs Act: The law, instituted in 1789, was previously used in 1977 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government to compel a telecom company to help it conduct surveillance to make a racketeering sting. Basically, as Gizmodo describes, it provides “the court-order version of a blank check” to judges.

MediaNama’s take: The court has essentially asked Apple to undermine its own security measures, and Apple is justified in wanting to fight it out. The move could set a precedent where various Governments around the world start asking Apple to do the same, or even use the newly created exploit to access other iPhones; eventually culminating to manufacturers required to build backdoor into production models of pretty much any device.

Image source: Perspecsys Photos under CC BY-SA 2.0