Apple is preparing for a legal fight with the Justice Department to defend encryption on its iPhones while publicly trying to defuse the dispute, as the technology giant navigates a tricky line between its customers and the Trump administration, the New York Times reports. Attorney General William Barr has taken aim at the company and asked it to help penetrate two phones used by a gunman in a deadly shooting last month at a naval air station in Pensacola, Fl. There is frustration on the Apple team that the Justice Department hasn’t spent enough time trying to get into the iPhones with third-party tools. The situation has become a sudden crisis at Apple that pits CEO Timothy Cook’s longstanding commitment to protecting people’s privacy against accusations from the federal government that it is putting the public at risk. The case resembles Apple’s 2016 clash with the FBI over another dead gunman’s phone, which lasted months.
The stakes are high for Cook, who has built an unusual alliance with President Donald Trump that has helped Apple largely avoid damaging tariffs in the trade war with China. “We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements,” Trump said Tuesday on Twitter. “They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country.” The company said it was working with the FBI on the Pensacola case, with its engineers providing technical assistance. “We will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation,” Apple said. Cook’s team is aiming for an outside resolution that doesn’t involve the company breaking its own security as it prepares for a legal battle over the issue.