U.S. tech companies unite behind Apple ahead of iPhone encryption ruling

The case has pitted top officials of the Obama administration against one of the world’s most admired and profitable companies

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The nation’s leading tech companies joined security experts, independent programmers and civil liberties advocates who filed court papers backing Apple in its fight with the FBI over an encrypted iPhone used by an extremist killer.

Several law enforcement groups, meanwhile, filed briefs in support of federal authorities who are seeking Apple’s help in hacking an encrypted iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino mass shooters.

These “friend of the court” briefs come in advance of a March 22 hearing in which Apple is asking U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym to reverse an order requiring Apple to create a software program that overrides iPhone security features. That program would let authorities try to unlock Farook’s phone by guessing its passcode; Apple says it would make all other iPhones more vulnerable to future attacks.

The case has pitted top officials of the Obama administration against one of the world’s most admired and profitable companies. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch this week suggested Apple was trying to rewrite the rules for what she characterized as routine steps taken by law enforcement investigators.

But some of Apple’s biggest competitors rose to its defense in a joint legal brief submitted Thursday.

“The government’s position, if it prevails, will undermine the security of America’s most sensitive data,” states a filing from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo and ten other companies. “The law does not allow federal agents to conscript companies into defeating their own security safeguards and product designs.”

Several trade associations and a group of 17 smaller tech firms, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Reddit submitted their own filings on Apple’s behalf. Some echoed Apple’s arguments that the judge’s order oversteps current law and could lead to a wave of similar requests from both U.S. and foreign authorities.

“If the government prevails, then this case will be the first of many requiring companies to degrade the security and to undermine the trust in their products,” attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union warned in their own brief.

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