Some of the biggest companies in the tech industry are lining up to support Apple as it battles the FBI.
Google, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft and Snapchat are among the companies that have filed court documents defending the Cupertino company’s stance as it resists demands by the FBI to help it unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. (Scroll down to see the full amicus briefs.)
The Bureau believes that the phone, which belonged to Syed Farook, could contain clues as to his motivations and potentially help prevent future terror attacks. But because it’s encrypted, the agency can’t access any data on the device.
Using the 227-year-old All Writs Act, the FBI is trying to compel Apple to build a new version of the phone’s operating system, iOS, which would remove certain security practices, letting the FBI to rapidly guess every possible passcode without fear of wiping the data on the phone.
But Apple is refusing, arguing that creating this new software would be too dangerous. “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,” CEO Tim Cook wrote in an internal memo to Apple employees.
The legal battle has thrust encryption and cybersecurity onto the US national agenda during an election year, divided public opinion, and pitted the might of the US Justice Department against one of the world’s most powerful companies.
On Thursday, two amicus briefs were filed by nearly three dozen of the biggest US tech companies defending Apple’s position. (We first saw them over on TechCrunch.) One — filed by Airbnb, Atlassian, Automattic, Cloudflare, eBay, Github, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Mapbox, Medium, Meetup, Reddit, Square, Squarespace, Twilio, Twitter, and Wickr — argues that the “extraordinary and unprecedented effort to compel a private company to become the government’s investigative arm not only has no legal basis under the All Writs Act or any other law, but threatens the core principles of privacy, security, and transparency that underline the fabric of the internet.”
The other — from Amazon, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Yahoo — says that the companies “are also fully united in their view that the government’s order to Apple exceeds the bounds of existing law and, when applied more broadly, will harm Americans’ security in the long run.”
Apple’s supporters are concerned that if it is made to comply with the FBI’s demands, it will set a precedent whereby any company or developer can be forced to load malicious software onto its products.
The US Justice Department recently lost a similar case relating to drugs, again trying to use the All Writs Act to compel Apple to help unlock an iPhone. Ruling in favour of Apple, Judge Orenstein wrote: “In a world in which so many devices, not just smartphones, will be connected to the Internet of Things, the government’s theory that a licensing agreement allows it to compel the manufacturers of such products to help it surveil the products’ users will result in a virtually limitless expansion of the government’s legal authority to surreptitiously intrude on personal privacy.”