Tech firms unite behind Apple in fight with FBI

Protesters rallying in support of Apple in San Francisco last month. Apple argues that the court order - requiring it to write new software to disable passcode protection and allow access to an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters - would set
Protesters rallying in support of Apple in San Francisco last month. Apple argues that the court order - requiring it to write new software to disable passcode protection and allow access to an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters - would set a dangerous precedent and threaten customer security. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

They file legal briefs supporting refusal to help investigators access shooter's iPhone

SAN FRANCISCO • Tech industry leaders including Alphabet's Goo- gle, Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T and more than two dozen other Internet and technology companies have filed legal briefs asking a judge to support Apple in its encryption battle with the United States government.

The rare display of unity and support from Apple's sometime-rivals showed the breadth of Silicon Valley's opposition to the govern- ment's anti-encryption effort.

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 long-running debate over how much law enforcement and intelligence officials should be able to monitor digital communications.

On Thursday, Apple's industry allies and several privacy advocates filed amicus briefs - a form of comment from outside groups common in complex cases - to US District Judge Sheri Pym in Riverside, California.

Six relatives of San Bernardino attack victims 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 favour of the government.

The companies backing Apple largely echo its 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 and LinkedIn, 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 did not go that far, but 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". They 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 defence. "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 the application to file an amicus brief, alleges that the iPhone may have been "used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino County's infrastructure". The document contained no evidence to support the claim.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'Tech firms unite behind Apple in fight with FBI'. Print Edition | Subscribe