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Justice Department: Apple obligated to assist FBI

The Justice Department asserted Thursday that it would take as few as two weeks for six of Apple Inc.'s 100,000 employees to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 25: A man plays with the iPhone 6s Plus at Apple Store on September 25, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department asserted Thursday that it would take as few as two weeks for six of Apple Inc.'s 100,000 employees to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook.

"This burden is not unreasonable,'' Justice lawyers argued in the government's latest defense of a court order requiring the tech giant to help the FBI gain access to the iPhone recovered after Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people at a December office party.

"The court's order is modest; it applies to a single iPhone, and it allows Apple to decide the least burdensome means of complying,'' the government's new court documents state.

The Justice filing, which intensifies the rhetoric in an already pitched legal clash between privacy and national security interests, said that Apple's opposition is based on a "false'' argument that is "corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights.''

"Here, Apple deliberately raised technological barriers that now stand between a lawful warrant and iPhone containing evidence related to the terrorist mass murder of 14 Americans,'' the government argued. "Apple can be compelled to give aid. That is no lawless tyranny. Rather, it is ordered liberty vindicating the rule of law.''

In opposing the court order, Apple has argued that "no court has ever granted the government power to force companies like Apple to weaken its security systems." The action, the company said, would carry the added financial impact of potentially harming the company's reputation with consumers.

But Justice lawyers countered Thursday that the company had sought to "alarm'' the court with claims that the government was pushing to create a "back door'' into the private communications of millions of customers.

"This is a diversion,'' the new court papers stated. "Apple desperately wants — desperately needs — this case not to be about one isolated iPhone. But there is probable cause to believe there is evidence of a terrorist attack on that phone, and our legal system give this court the authority to see that it can be searched pursuant to a lawful warrant. And under the compelling circumstances here, the court should exercise that authority, even if Apple would rather its products be warrant proof.''

Apple did not immediately comment Thursday.

A hearing on the matter is set for March 22.