Arizona county attorney swears off iPhone in response to FBI case

The Maricopa County attorney's office in Arizona has ditched the provision of iPhones over Apple's dispute with the FBI.

The Maricopa County attorney's office in Arizona will be ceasing the provision of new iPhones to its staff -- effective immediately -- with the office citing Apple's refusal to assist in unlocking an iPhone at the request of the FBI as the reason.

The US Federal Court order demanded that Apple help the FBI access data on an iPhone 5C that was owned by Syed Farook, a shooter in December's attack in San Bernardino, California.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery described Apple's positioning on the request as a public relations stunt.

"Apple's refusal to cooperate with a legitimate law enforcement investigation to unlock a phone used by terrorists puts Apple on the side of terrorists instead of on the side of public safety," Montgomery said in a statement. "Positioning their refusal to cooperate as having anything to do with privacy interests is a corporate PR stunt and ignores the 4th Amendment protections afforded by our Constitution."

The Phoenix-based attorney said the evidence obtained through searches using warrants to unlock encrypted smartphones have proven critical to the investigation and prosecution of defendants charged with drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, murder, and other serious offences.

"I don't expect my action to affect Apple's stock price," he said.

"But I cannot in good conscience support doing business with an organisation that chooses to thwart an active investigation into a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 14 fellow citizens.

"If Apple wants to be the official smartphone of terrorists and criminals, there will be a consequence."

Federal agents do not know the passcode to Farook's phone, and run the risk of erasing all the data if they continue attempting to access it. The iPhone maker, however, does not have access to the passcode either as the company recently began locking itself out of the security chain to prevent law enforcement from demanding that it hands them over.

The phone belonged to Farook's employer, the San Bernardino Department of Public Health, which has given the government permission to search the phone.

Apple is being asked by the court to help the FBI access the phone by creating a special version of iOS that will be easier for the government agency to get into.

Earlier this month, Judge Sheri Pym ruled that Apple must provide a tool that would allow federal agents to beat a security feature preventing the phone from erasing after a number of failed unlocking attempts.

The court ruling did not order the tech giant to break the encryption, but said it should offer "reasonable technical assistance" to law enforcement.

Apple filed a motion on Thursday, however, to vacate the court's order.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an email to employees that it was possible to do what the FBI was asking, but added that the company believes it "too dangerous to do", as it would undermine the security features of the device.

Cook said in an open letter hours after Pym's ruling that it opposes the order because it has "implications far beyond the legal case at hand".

The phone giant believes that agreeing to the FBI's demands will set a "dangerous precedent".