A U.S. magistrate issued an order that Apple must build a tool for the FBI to access one of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhones, but the Cupertino company doesn’t want to create a backdoor into its secure operating system — fearing that it could get into the wrong hands.
A wide range of people, companies, and organizations have submitted amicus briefs and sent letters to voice their concerns and opinions on the encryption debate between Apple and the FBI. We have selected quotes from each brief and letter that best resonate with the tone of the people behind it. Read our full coverage on the issue here.
As a note, some organizations and individuals grouped together to attach their names to a single amicus brief, rather than filing separate notes. You can view the full list of briefs and letters in support of Apple here. These amicus briefs support Apple’s motion to vacate, which is a request to withdraw, a previous order of judgment. In this case, Apple is requesting that the order build a tool to help the FBI unlock the shooter’s phone be retracted.
Support for Apple comes from a wide array of sources, ranging from civil and human rights groups to tech companies and law experts.
Airbnb, Atlassian, Automattic, CloudFlare, eBay, GitHub, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Mapbox, Meetup, Medium, Reddit, Square, Squarespace, Twilio, Twitter, Wickr
These 17 organizations represent a user base of more than a billion people. The collective brief goes into lengths about how the aforementioned companies are willing to support law enforcement as long as requests are done through legal, established methods.
“Granting the government such extraordinary authority, without any set rules or legal protections, will not only erode user privacy and security and defeat users’ interest in transparency, it will undermine an existing legislative framework balancing competing interests and policy considerations,” the brief says.
Amazon, Box, Cisco Systems, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Yahoo
This one’s the big one — it’s what everyone in the tech industry was waiting for first, but it was one of the last to be added to the list of brief’s on Apple’s Web page. It includes the top dogs in Silicon Valley, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft.
The brief more or less hits all the points made by Apple and other critics of the judge’s order. The companies worry that if the ruling goes in favor of the FBI, then it would undermine sensitive data belonging to the American people. Also, since computer code is free speech, the government is asking Apple engineers to “engage in protected speech — against their will.”
“Writing computer code can be a creative, complex, and expressive task, and it is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment,” the brief reads. “…A panel of the Ninth Circuit has likewise held that ‘encryption software, in its source code form and as employed by those in the field of cryptography, must be viewed as expressive for First Amendment purposes.'”
It also mentions that if Apple is compelled to create new code and re-engineer its product, the same could be done to any of the aforementioned companies.
“With enough time and resources, amici’s engineers could possibly come up with any number of new versions of their companies’ products that circumvent or undermine their pre-existing data-security features,” the brief states. “But those versions would not be the same product anymore. Box would not be Box; Gmail would not be Gmail; WhatsApp would not be WhatsApp; and so on.”
Intel submitted its own amicus brief alone, and its key point is that Congress should take action, not the court, and the whole debate should follow the democratic process.
“The issues that such authority would raise should be discussed and debated through the democratic process, with consultation involving industry and other affected stakeholders. Because the government currently does not have that authority, Apple’s motion to vacate should be granted.”
This one is a bit surprising — and it also brings to light the lack of response from other carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T’s submission is certainly going to draw raised eyebrows, though. After all, it was AT&T that permitted the National Security Agency to access billions of emails and call records through a “mutual partnership.”
But AT&T’s amicus brief largely focuses on noting that it is Congress’ job to determine the outcome of how the government can request access from third-party companies, not the court.
“These issues should be resolved by a public vote after a public debate following ‘the kind of investigation, examination, and study that legislative bodies can provide and courts cannot,'” the brief states, quoting Diamond v. Chakrabarty.
AVG Technologies, Data Foundry, Golden Frog, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), the Internet Association, and the Internet Infrastructure Coalition
This collective consists of security services companies, an association representing American’s Internet companies, and more. They all back encryption and find privacy to be of utmost importance, which is why they filed a brief in support of Apple. The brief focuses on how this order could set a precedent that would impact smaller companies in the future.
“Smaller companies without the resources of Apple are more likely to quickly cave to the government’s demands in those cases, choosing the burden of creating new technology that undermines their products’ security over the threat of a contempt order,” the brief states.
BSA The Software Alliance, the Consumer Technology Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, and TechNet
This batch of supporters features the Business Software Alliance, which consists of leading software and hardware tech companies; the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the annual CES; the Information Technology Industry Council, an advocacy organization that “navigates” the relationships between governments and companies; and TechNet, which is comprised of CEOs and executives from major tech companies in the U.S.
One of the more interesting points in the brief filed by these organizations is that Congress “explicitly” hasn’t forced tech companies to follow government-imposed design specifications. Granting the order would circumvent Congress’ “intent in passing CALEA.”
“CALEA expressly prohibits the government from requiring any ‘provider of … electronic communication service’ to adopt a ‘specific design of equipment, facilities, services, features, or systems configuration,'” according to the brief.
ACT supports software companies in the mobile app community, and its brief discusses how forcing Apple to create specialized software can be burdensome for smaller companies that could be “conscripted” to create software to aid a government investigation.
“The risks associated with such revisions are especially severe where, as here, the modifications need to occur at the operating system level of the code, because the operating system affects all applications that run on and data stored on the device and therefore can create cascading problems throughout,” the document states. “Indeed, the Government’s position borders on the absurd in the context of software development.”