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Apple calls for US government to form commission on encryption issues

The move comes after Apple said it will not unlock an iPhone at the US government's request.

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(Image via CNET/CBS Interactive)

Apple has reiterated its stance against a high profile request for it to help the FBI unlock a phone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to all Apple employees on Monday, where he called on the US government to form a commission of experts to discuss policy surrounding cases similar in nature.

"We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms," Cook told employees in a letter obtained by BuzzFeed.

Cook also praised the public's support and the discussion going forward.

"Last week we asked our customers and people across the United States to join a public dialogue about important issues facing our country. In the week since that letter, I've been grateful for the thought and discussion we've heard and read, as well as the outpouring of support we've received from across America," he continued.

On Monday, Apple also published a question and answer website to answer "your questions about Apple and security."

"We built strong security into the iPhone because people carry so much personal information on our phones today, and there are new data breaches every week affecting individuals, companies and governments," the website writes. "The passcode lock and requirement for manual entry of the passcode are at the heart of the safeguards we have built in to iOS."

Prosecutors said last week that the device in question may have "crucial evidence" about the San Bernardino terrorist attack in California on December 2.

Syed Farook, along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and injured dozens in the shooting attack.

The Justice Dept. piled on the pressure in a filed motion on Friday, further demanding Apple's help to access the device to determine who the terrorists may have communicated with prior to the attacks, where they traveled to and from, and "other pertinent information."

You can read in Cook's full letter to employees below, where Apple says it is set on keeping trust between customers.

Last week we asked our customers and people across the United States to join a public dialogue about important issues facing our country. In the week since that letter, I've been grateful for the thought and discussion we've heard and read, as well as the outpouring of support we've received from across America.

As individuals and as a company, we have no tolerance or sympathy for terrorists. When they commit unspeakable acts like the tragic attacks in San Bernardino, we work to help the authorities pursue justice for the victims. And that's exactly what we did.

This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government's order we knew we had to speak out. At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties.

As you know, we use encryption to protect our customers - whose data is under siege. We work hard to improve security with every software release because the threats are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated all the time.

Some advocates of the government's order want us to roll back data protections to iOS 7, which we released in September 2013. Starting with iOS 8, we began encrypting data in a way that not even the iPhone itself can read without the user's passcode, so if it is lost or stolen, our personal data, conversations, financial and health information are far more secure. We all know that turning back the clock on that progress would be a terrible idea.

Our fellow citizens know it, too. Over the past week I've received messages from thousands of people in all 50 states, and the overwhelming majority are writing to voice their strong support. One email was from a 13-year-old app developer who thanked us for standing up for "all future generations." And a 30-year Army veteran told me, "Like my freedom, I will always consider my privacy as a treasure."

I've also heard from many of you and I am especially grateful for your support.

Many people still have questions about the case and we want to make sure they understand the facts. So today we are posting answers on apple.com/customer-letter/answers/ to provide more information on this issue. I encourage you to read them.

Apple is a uniquely American company. It does not feel right to be on the opposite side of the government in a case centering on the freedoms and liberties that government is meant to protect.

Our country has always been strongest when we come together. We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.

People trust Apple to keep their data safe, and that data is an increasingly important part of everyone's lives. You do an incredible job protecting them with the features we design into our products. Thank you.

Tim