By Will Grice
In December last year, 14 people were gunned down at a party in San Bernardino, California. The pair responsible for the shooting, Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, stormed the Inland Regional Center, armed with semi-automatic pistols and rifles, before opening fire on those in the room. Many of the people killed in the massacre were Farook's colleagues at the San Bernardino County office, with news outlets speculating that the couple had been radicalised by Islamic extremists. After the shooting, the couple were chased by police to a road not far from their home. Five minutes and 456 bullets later, Farook and Malik were shot dead in a gunfight involving 23 officers from seven different police agencies. Four months on and the aftermath of the massacre still rages on to this day.
After the shooting, police searched Farook’s home, hoping to find anything that would reveal who the couple had been communicating with in the days leading up to the shootings. While the police discovered the pair had removed the hard drive of their computer and destroyed their personal phones, they did uncover one important item - Farook’s work phone, an iPhone 5C. The police believed that hidden somewhere on the device was information on who had convinced the pair to carry out the spree - if indeed it was anyone at all. Standing between the government and this intelligence was a simple passcode that only Farook knew. To break through the phone's security, the FBI reached out to Apple.
Despite numerous demands from the FBI, Apple refused to help the government hack into Farook's phone, with the company's CEO Tim Cook stating that helping the government bypass the security features on the phone would be a breach of privacy. Not only would Apple have to hack their own product, but it was suggested that the only way to do so would be to create a backdoor to its software - something that could later be exploited by other hackers.
The following months were filled with court cases and arguments over privacy, with everyone from Bill Gates to Barack Obama being pulled into the debate. The actions of both Apple and the FBI polarised international opinion, with many claiming that such a breach could become a gateway to further infringements of privacy dictated by the government, while others countered that doing so was a matter of homeland security. The matter remained unresolved with neither the tech industry or the FBI backing down upon what both would argue was a simple matter of cause.
This week it was revealed that the government had found a way into Farook's iPhone without the help of Apple, a move which brought the court case to a close, but raised several questions in doing so: How did the government bypass the phone's security features without the help of the manufacturer? What does the government hacking into a phone mean to the general public? And who could have helped them break into the supposedly unhackable phone?
Here's what we know so far.