February 19, 2016
The tech industry and privacy advocates are standing behind Apple in its fight against the U.S. government to protect iPhone encryption.
Apple CEO Tim Cook announced earlier this week his company plans to challenge a “chilling” federal court order to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the attackers who carried out the Dec. 2 terrorist attack that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. The order to help the FBI, which came Tuesday, tells Apple it must provide “reasonable technical assistance” to law enforcement in the recovery of data from the iPhone 5c. The FBI has been unable to access the device’s encrypted content.
Cook penned a lengthy letter to Apple customers on the company’s website, explaining his reasoning in opposing the federal court order.
“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government,” Cook wrote. “While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
Facebook, in a statement sent to several media outlets, said it would stand with Apple and “fight aggressively” against government demands to weaken encryption.
“We condemn terrorism and have total solidarity with victims of terror. Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services,” Facebook said in its statement.
“We also appreciate the difficult and essential work of law enforcement to keep people safe. When we receive lawful requests from these authorities we comply. However, we will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his support of Apple in a tweet.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in a series of tweets late Wednesday, said the court ruling “could be a troubling precedent.”
“Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy,” he tweeted.
“We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data.”
Privacy watchdogs the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have also announced their support for Apple.
The EFF had this to say:
We are supporting Apple here because the government is doing more than simply asking for Apple’s assistance. For the first time, the government is requesting Apple write brand new code that eliminates key features of iPhone security—security features that protect us all. Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone. And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security.
The U.S. government wants us to trust that it won’t misuse this power. But we can all imagine the myriad ways this new authority could be abused. Even if you trust the U.S. government, once this master key is created, governments around the world will surely demand that Apple undermine the security of their citizens as well.
Staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project Alex Abdo also had strong words about the court order.
“This is an unprecedented, unwise, and unlawful move by the government,” Abdo said. “The Constitution does not permit the government to force companies to hack into their customers’ devices. Apple is free to offer a phone that stores information securely, and it must remain so if consumers are to retain any control over their private data.
“The government’s request also risks setting a dangerous precedent. If the FBI can force Apple to hack into its customers’ devices, then so too can every repressive regime in the rest of the world. Apple deserves praise for standing up for its right to offer secure devices to all of its customers.”
John McAfee, the founder of anti-virus software firm McAfee now owned by Intel, announced his support of Apple in an op-ed piece published by Tech Insider.
“No matter how you slice this pie, if the government succeeds in getting this back door, it will eventually get a back door into all encryption, and our world, as we know it, is over,” he wrote. “In spite of the FBI’s claim that it would protect the back door, we all know that’s impossible. There are bad apples everywhere…”
McAfee, who is running for president as a member of the Libertarian Party, has also offered to crack the phone’s encryption for the FBI.
“I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.”
McAfee’s sentiments seem to echo those of Cook, who, in his letter, said complying with the order would only open the door to further demands — demands that could, eventually, hurt law-abiding citizens.
Cook’s letter can be read in full here.
Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.