Google, Microsoft, Others Rally Behind Apple Against FBI

Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others filed a friend of the court brief in support of Apple. It argues against the government's use of the All Writs Act to force the writing of new code, and emphasizes the "singular importance" of the case to all of them.

Michelle Maisto, Freelance Writer

March 4, 2016

4 Min Read

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On March 3, Amazon, Box, Cisco Systems, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Yahoo filed an amici curiae -- or, "friends of the court" brief -- with a California District Court in support of Apple and its encryption conflict with the US government.

"Amici often compete vigorously with Apple -- and with each other. But amici here speak with one voice because of the singular importance of this case to them and their customers who trust amici to safeguard their data and most sensitive communications from attackers," states the brief.

On Feb. 16, the FBI obtained a court order, citing the All Writs Act (AWA) of 1789, requiring Apple to create software that will enable the FBI to access a locked device, bypass Apple security functions and search the device.

Among the arguments made in the amici brief are that the AWA was "not designed to confer sweeping new powers" to the federal courts.

The brief cites the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in United States v. New York Telephone Co., in which the court of appeals worried that an AWA order could pose a "severe threat to the autonomy of third parties," and the Supreme Court offered its assurances that "the power of federal courts to impose duties upon third parties is not without limits" and the AWA can't impose an "unreasonable burden."

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The amici also refers to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires telecommunications carriers and manufactures to design their offerings in a manner that ensures law enforcement can execute court-ordered wiretaps, but that specifies that the carriers "shall not be responsible for decrypting, or ensuring the government's ability to decrypt [communications]."

Ardently, the brief also argues how essential security and encryption technologies are to the companies' products and services, and to their ability to honor their promises to their customers. It shares their worry that the fallout associated with creating a so-called "backdoor," or compromising security efforts in any way, will be on them.

"If companies' security-defeating tools were to fall into the wrong hands, the companies -- not the U.S. government -- would be the ones left to deal with the fallout of lawsuits, lost customers, and damaged reputations," states the brief. "That very real risk is not merely a 'marketing or general policy concern.' It is a danger that any technology company would be blind to ignore."

The brief notes a hearing date set for March 22 at 1 p.m., with judge Sheri Pym.

In concert with the brief, Richard Salgado, director of Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, published a March 3 blog post stating Google's participation in the filing.

[Read Apple, FBI, Congress: 5 Burning Questions Raised.]

"We have tremendous respect for the challenges that law enforcement officials face as they work to keep people safe," Salgado wrote. "However, while we support the government's goals of thwarting terrorist and criminal acts, the implications of this case extend well beyond this particular investigation."

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also offered a statement on the matter March 4 urging US authorities to proceed with great caution, given the matter's potentially negative ramifications for the human rights of people all over the world.

"Encryption tools are widely used around the world, including by human rights defenders, civil society, journalists, whistle-blowers and political dissidents facing persecution and harassment," he said in the statement.

"Encryption and anonymity are needed as enablers of both freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to privacy," he continued. "It is neither fanciful nor an exaggeration to say that, without encryption tools, lives may be endangered. In the worst cases, a Government's ability to break into its citizens' phones may lead to the persecution of individuals who are simply exercising their fundamental human rights."

He concluded that the issue is one of "proportionality."

In order to possibly "but by no means certainly" gain more information about "the dreadful crime committed by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife in San Bernardino," he stated, "we may end up enabling a multitude of other crimes all across the world, including in the United States."

About the Author(s)

Michelle Maisto

Freelance Writer

Michelle Maisto is a writer, a reader, a plotter, a cook, and a thinker whose career has revolved around food and technology. She has been, among other things, the editor-in-chief of Mobile Enterprise Magazine, a reporter on consumer mobile products and wireless networks for, and the head writer at a big data startup focused on data networks and shared data. She has contributed to Gourmet, Saveur, and Yahoo Food. Her memoir, The Gastronomy of Marriage, was published on three continents. She's currently learning Mandarin at an excruciating pace.

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