DOJ Accuses Apple Of Giving China Access It’s Denying the FBI

Apple calls it a “smear” comparable to accusing the FBI of ordering the Kennedy assassination.

It was bizarre exchange that reflected well on neither party.

In a court filing Thursday, the Department of Justice accused Apple of deliberately modifying the iPhone’s software to block U.S. government access while at the same time sharing confidential customer information with the Chinese government—an accommodation it says Apple made in order to gain access to “a huge, and growing, market.”

In an angry conference call with reporters a few hours later, Apple’s chief counsel Bruce Sewell called the accusation a “cheap shot” and a “smear” based on lightly sourced newspaper articles. At least one of the articles cited by the DOJ—a 2014 report in the Wall Street Journal—included Apple’s assurance that its Chinese customers’ data, like its U.S. customers’ information, is encrypted, and that Apple held the key.

Then, after saying that the company would never respond in kind, Sewell proceeded to do just that:

“Imagine Apple asking a court whether the FBI could be trusted because, ‘there is this real question about whether J. Edgar Hoover ordered the assassination of Kennedy. See as our supporting evidence.'”

Apple has until March 15 to respond to the latest DOJ filing. Both sides are scheduled appear in federal court on March 22.

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