LOS ANGELES (CN) - Apple is resisting a federal judge's Tuesday order to help the FBI unlock San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone for the federal investigation of the massacre that left 14 people dead.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to FBI technicians working on Farook's iPhone 5C. Officials found the phone in Farook and Tashfeen Malik's black SUV after the couple were killed in a shootout with police on the streets of San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015.
U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said investigators have "worked tirelessly to exhaust every investigative lead in the case" to unravel the motives for the massacre that left 14 people dead and 22 wounded.
"The application filed today in federal court is another step - a potentially important step - in the process of learning everything we possibly can about the attack in San Bernardino," Decker said in a statement.
In supporting documents , the government says it has been unable to access the password-protected content of the iPhone.
Investigators hope the encrypted content might reveal who the couple communicated with and where they traveled, before and after the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since the September 11 attacks in New York.
The work phone is property of San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, where Farook worked as an environmental health specialist trainee.
The government says that 10 failed attempts at the device would auto-erase all of the content.
It says Apple has the means to help unlock the phone so investigators can complete the search, but that Apple "has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily."
Pym's 3-page order compels Apple to help bypass the auto-erase function so FBI technicians can crack the passcode and disable any functions that would delay the process of testing passwords on the device.
The government says Apple can modify software on the phone to make sure the auto-erase function is turned off.
Pym says in her order that if the government agrees, Apple can use alternative technology to give investigators access to the phone.
Apple does not have to make copies of the content on the phone. It is up to the government to make sure the data on the phone is copied and backed up, Pym said.
FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that FBI technicians had failed to unlock a device they hope will provide more clues. Authorities have uncovered some evidence that the couple supported the objectives of Islamic State terrorists but the motives that drove the attack remain unclear.
"We still have one of those killers' phones that we haven't been able to open," Comey said. "It has been two months now and we are still working on it."
Digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation indicated Tuesday that Apple is challenging the order and that the EFF would file court papers supporting the tech company.
"Apple is fighting the order which would compromise the security of all its users around the world," said EFF executive Kurt Opsahl.
Opsahl said the "backdoor" order would require Apple to write new code that does away with essential security features that protect users' privacy.
"Essentially, 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," Opsahl posted on the EFF website.
Apple CEO Tim Cook last year outlined the company's commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.
"Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security," Cook said. "We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it."
Apple has five days to challenge the order if the company considers it "unreasonably burdensome," Pym's order states.