Microsoft is “wholeheartedly” siding with Apple in its battle with the FBI over unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone.
Silicon Valley is taking on Washington, D.C.
The nation’s technology giants, including Microsoft and Amazon.com, appear to be banding together with Apple in the iPhone maker’s fight against a federal court order to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino attack in which 14 people died.
For its part, Apple on Thursday asked a federal magistrate in the case to reverse her order, accusing the federal government of seeking “dangerous power” through the courts and of trampling on its constitutional rights.
The case has drawn worldwide attention and is shaping up to be one that may have huge implications for privacy and security issues.
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Microsoft publicly announced Thursday that it supports Apple and will file an amicus brief next week backing its technology competitor. Many reports indicate that Google, Twitter and Facebook, whose CEOs have already voiced support for Apple, will join with Microsoft.
Seattle’s other tech giant, Amazon, said Thursday it also is looking into filing a brief to back Apple in the dispute.
“We are working on amicus options now,” spokesman Craig Berman wrote in an email
Some reports say the technology giants will band together and file one joint brief in support of Apple, a powerful statement that would be difficult for federal authorities to ignore.
The tech industry has a long history of supporting better encryption and user privacy, often pushing back against information requests made by the federal government.
This might be the most telling fight yet. Tech companies, though they are quick to condemn terrorism, warn of widespread ramifications if Apple is mandated to unlock the iPhone.
Apple’s filing Thursday was its first official response since the judge’s order last week and builds upon arguments voiced by company Chief Executive Tim Cook and supporters. Apple has strongly stated its resistance to the hack, saying the necessary actions would create a “back door” into the iPhone, making the phones, and user information, vulnerable.
Mandating Apple to hack the phone could set a dangerous precedent, the company said.
“The government says: ‘Just this once’ and ‘Just this phone.’ But the government knows those statements are not true,” Apple said in its court filing.
Apple says it would have to build software for the hack that would make other iPhones vulnerable to hackers who are seeking the code. It compared code to free speech and said a requirement by the government to write new software would be a constitutional breach.
FBI Director James Comey has dismissed Apple’s concerns that the software would be vulnerable, saying the hack would be used just on one phone and would not get “out in the wild.” But Comey also said the case has brought up the “hardest question I’ve seen in government.”
The Justice Department said it is reviewing Apple’s latest filing and would respond.
Microsoft is “wholeheartedly” siding with Apple, company President Brad Smith said Thursday.
“We at Microsoft support Apple and will be filing an amicus brief next week,” Smith said at a congressional hearing on the laws governing data transfers across borders, and government requests for that information.
Microsoft had previously not weighed in directly on the high-profile issue.
Smith pulled out a 1912 adding machine while giving his testimony, using the prop to demonstrate the age of the law that is being quoted in the Apple case.
“We do not believe that courts should seek to resolve issues of 21st-century technology with a law that was written in the era of the adding machine,” Smith said, referring to the All Writs Act the FBI is citing in making its case to unlock the iPhone.
Microsoft believes the issue should be decided in Congress, Smith said, again siding with Apple.
Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates slightly, though not explicitly, disagreed with Apple, saying companies should work with the federal government on particular cases involving terrorism.
The congressional hearing at which Smith testified Thursday centered on international data-transfer laws. Smith urged countries to have a like-minded approach that allows people “to have the protection of their own rights by their own laws.”
Microsoft for more than two years has been battling a U.S. judge’s order that it turn over the contents of a customer’s email account stored at an Irish data center.
Microsoft says U.S. prosecutors, who are seeking the emails as part of a drug-trafficking investigation, should ask the Irish authorities under existing legal-aid treaties. Two federal judges have sided with the government, and Microsoft’s appeal is pending with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Redmond company has pointed to the case as an example of the need for an update of global data sovereignty laws.
A variety of bills in the works would modernize U.S. legislation governing the privacy of electronic communications. A core piece of that framework, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, was passed in 1986, when the Internet was in its infancy and the amount of personal and business information stored in cyberspace was tiny. Some of the legislation under consideration would address circumstances like those in Microsoft’s case.