Facebook, Twitter side with Apple in encryption fight

While other tech companies have spoken against broad government surveillance in the past, the Obama administration has recently sought to enlist the tech industry’s help in fighting terrorism. (Shutterstock)

Facebook and Twitter are siding with Apple in its fight against a court order requiring the company to help investigators break into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino mass shooters.

A U.S. has magistrate ordered Apple to produce software that would give investigators access to the iPhone at issue. Apple has until Tuesday to challenge the order, setting the stage for a legal clash that experts say could change the relationship between tech companies and government authorities in the U.S. and around the world.

Twitter’s chief executive Jack Dorsey tweeted that the microblogging site stands with Apple Inc. and its CEO Tim Cook and thanked Cook for his leadership.

Facebook in a statement said it condemns terrorism and also appreciates the essential work of law enforcement in keeping people safe. But it said it will “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,” the statement said.

The government isn’t asking Apple to help break the iPhone’s encryption directly, but to disable other security measures that prevent attempts to guess the phone’s passcode.

Cook argues that once such a tool is available, “the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” even as law enforcement insists that safeguards could be employed to limit its use to that particular phone. He has posted a 1,117-word open letter on how the FBI’s request might have implications “far beyond the legal case at hand.”

For months, Cook has engaged in a sharp, public debate with government officials over his company’s decision to shield the data of iPhone users with strong encryption - essentially locking up people’s photos, text messages and other data so securely that even Apple can’t get at it. Law-enforcement officials from FBI Director James Comey on down have complained that terrorists and criminals may use that encryption as a shield.

“This is really a deep question about the power of government to redesign products that we use,” said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who studies data security and privacy issues.

While other tech companies have spoken against broad government surveillance in the past, the Obama administration has recently sought to enlist the tech industry’s help in fighting terrorism. Several companies have recently heeded the administration’s request for voluntary efforts aimed at countering terrorist postings on social media.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50
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