US tech com­pa­nies unite be­hind Ap­ple ahead of iPhone en­cryp­tion rul­ing

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Tech in­dus­try lead­ers in­clud­ing Al­pha­bet Inc's Google, Face­book Inc, Mi­crosoft Corp, AT&T and more than two dozen other In­ter­net and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies filed le­gal briefs on Thurs­day ask­ing a judge to sup­port Ap­ple Inc in its en­cryp­tion bat­tle with the U.S. govern­ment.

The rare dis­play of unity and sup­port from Ap­ple's some­time-ri­vals showed the breadth of Sil­i­con Val­ley's op­po­si­tion to the govern­ment's antien­cryp­tion ef­fort, a po­si­tion en­dorsed by the United Na­tions hu­man rights chief. Ap­ple's bat­tle be­came pub­lic last month when the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion ob­tained a court or­der re­quir­ing the com­pany to write new soft­ware to dis­able pass­code pro­tec­tion and al­low ac­cess to an iPhone used by one of the shoot­ers in the De­cem­ber killings in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia.

Ap­ple pushed back, ar­gu­ing that such a move would set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent and threaten cus­tomer se­cu­rity, and asked that the or­der be va­cated. The clash has in­ten­si­fied a lon­grun­ning de­bate over how much law en­force­ment and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials should be able to mon­i­tor dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Ap­ple's in­dus­try al­lies, along with sev­eral pri­vacy ad­vo­cates, filed am­i­cus briefs - a form of com­ment from out­side groups com­mon in com­plex cases - to U.S. District Judge Sheri Pym, in River­side, Cal­i­for­nia, who had set a Thurs­day dead­line.

Six rel­a­tives of San Bernardino at­tack vic­tims on Thurs­day weighed in with their own am­i­cus brief op­pos­ing Ap­ple. Three Cal­i­for­nia law en­force­ment groups, three fed­eral law en­force­ment groups and the San Bernardino district at­tor­ney also filed in fa­vor of the govern­ment.

The com­pa­nies back­ing Ap­ple largely echo the iPhone maker's main ar­gu­ment, that the 1789 All Writs Act at the heart of the govern­ment's case can­not be used to force com­pa­nies to cre­ate new tech­nol­ogy.

One am­i­cus fil­ing, from a group of 17 In­ter­net com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Twit­ter Inc and LinkedIn Corp, as­serted that Congress has al­ready passed laws that es­tab­lish what com­pa­nies could be obliged to do for the govern­ment, and that the court case amounted to an "end run" around those laws.

Ap­ple, and some of the other briefs, did not go quite that far, but also as­serted that Congress, not the courts, needed to ad­dress the is­sue. Congress has strug­gled with­out suc­cess for years to ad­dress law-en­force­ment con­cerns about en­cryp­tion.

The vic­tims' fam­i­lies ar­gued that Ap­ple's ar­gu­ments were mis­placed be­cause the govern­ment had a valid war­rant, and "one does not en­joy the pri­vacy to com­mit a crime." The fam­i­lies also as­serted that Ap­ple "rou­tinely mod­i­fies its sys­tems" to com­ply with Chi­nese govern­ment di­rec­tives.

Ap­ple has also ad­vanced a free speech ar­gu­ment, on the grounds that com­puter code is a form of ex­pres­sion and can­not be co­erced. The fam­i­lies pushed back against that de­fense: "This is the elec­tronic equiv­a­lent of un­lock­ing a door - no ex­pres­sion is in­volved at all," they said.

The San Bernardino District At­tor­ney's sum­mary ar­gu­ment, con­tained in its ap­pli­ca­tion to file an am­i­cus brief, al­leges the iPhone might have been "used as a weapon to in­tro­duce a ly­ing dor­mant cy­ber pathogen that en­dan­gers San Bernardino County's in­fra­struc­ture." The court doc­u­ment con­tained no ev­i­dence to sup­port the claim.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hus­sein, U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights, urged U.S. au­thor­i­ties to pro­ceed with "great cau­tion", warn­ing: "A suc­cess­ful case against Ap­ple in the U.S. will set a prece­dent that may make it im­pos­si­ble for Ap­ple or any other ma­jor in­ter­na­tional IT com­pany to safe­guard their clients' pri­vacy any­where in the world." "It is po­ten­tially a gift to au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes, as well as to crim­i­nal hack­ers," he said in a state­ment. The tech and In­ter­net in­dus­tries largely co­a­lesced around two fil­ings. One in­cludes mar­ket lead­ers Google, Mi­crosoft, Face­book, Ama­zon.com and Cisco Sys­tems, along with smaller, younger com­pa­nies such as Mozilla, Snapchat, Slack and Drop­box.

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