Apple vs. FBI: Tech CEOs, politicians, and advocates comment

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Mikhail (Vokabre) Shcherbakov/Flickr
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 number of politicians, tech CEOs, privacy advocates, human rights’ groups, and the shooting victims’ families quickly spoke out on the Apple vs. FBI case. Here is a selection.

Politicians and victims’ families

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says that the government is not asking Apple to create a new backdoor, but is simply referring to one device in one case. He told reporters that “the president certainly believes this is an important national priority,” Reuters reported.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hasn’t wasted time in offering his sentiments on the controversial issue. During an interview on the Fox News program Fox and Friends, Trump backed the courts and said that “we should be able to get into the phone” to find out why it happened and if others were involved in the December shooting. “To think that Apple won’t allow us to get into [the shooter’s] cell phone?” Trump said. “Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up.”

CBS Local reports the family of victim Yvette Velasco criticized the Cupertino company, and finds it “difficult to understand why Apple would not jump at the opportunity to help uncover whatever information the phone may contain.” Other victims families agreed.

John McAfee, who is still running for president, has called it a “black day” and the beginning of the end of the U.S. as a world power. To prevent Apple from giving the FBI a tool to hack into the iPhone, McAfee has offered himself and his team to hack into the San Bernardino terrorist’s smartphone.

Tech CEOs support Apple

Meanwhile, many other advocates, tech CEOs, and commentators have come out on Apple’s side.

Fight for the Future held a rally outside San Francisco’s Apple Store on Wednesday, drumming up support for Apple’s defense for privacy. The organization will stage nationwide protests outside Apple stores in more than 30 cities on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 5:30pm local time. A rally is also planned for FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC on the same day.

Popular conservative commentator, Glenn Beck, also supports Apple.

“This is insanity. Tim Cook is right,” Beck said in a Facebook post. “Apple is on the right side of history on this issue.” It’s a strong endorsement, considering that Beck said he isn’t a fan of the company, only its product. Beck, a proponent for smaller government, also said, “The government CANNOT bully private companies. In closing, he said, “I stand with Apple and I encourage you to do the same. Do your own homework and spread the word.”

There’s no mention of Apple or the San Bernardino case,  but the statement has been retweeted by Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, and in turn was retweeted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Jan Koum, CEO of Whatsapp which is owned by Facebook, backed Apple and said in a Facebook post, “We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.”

Edward Snowden supports Apple and also questioned Google’s initial silence on the issue.

This is the most important tech case in a decade. Silence means @google picked a side, but it's not the public's.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 17, 2016

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, came through — in defense of Apple. Pichai cited the importance of Cook’s letter in a tweet, and said that “forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy.”

3/5 We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders

— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016

4/5 But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent

— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016

“I think Steve would have gone for the privacy,” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said during a phone call to CNBC’s Power Lunch.

Wozniak noted one time the FBI visited Apple to talk about the possibility of spies getting into the company’s information network. Jobs asked the FBI if it did the same thing, and the answer was no. Wozniak believed the FBI was lying that day and further implied that you can’t trust an organization that isn’t truthful. Wozniak did say that he felt Apple could create a backdoor without handing it over to the FBI, but he warns that Apple as we know it today might not be the same company tomorrow. Insiders could decide to leak the backdoor at a later date.

Bill Gates told the Financial Times on Feb 22 that granting the FBI access to Farook’s iPhone wouldn’t set a meaningful legal precedent because the FBI is “not asking for some general thing, [it is] asking for a particular case.”

“It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records. Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said ‘don’t make me cut this ribbon, because you’ll make me cut it many times.’”

Gates further clarified his comments in a Feb 23 appearance on Bloomberg TV. “I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable. But striking that balance — clearly the government [has] taken information, historically, and used it in ways that we didn’t expect, going all the way back, say, to the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. So I’m hoping now we can have the discussion. I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind.”

After a long silence, Microsoft finally came to Apple’s side on Feb. 25. “We at Microsoft support Apple and will be filing an amicus brief next week,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said at a Congressional hearing on the laws governing data transfers across borders.

An amicus is literally a friend of the court. It’s someone (or a business) who is not a party to a case, but can offer information that could be of importance to the case. More importantly, the amicus isn’t solicited by any of the parties to assist the court. Smith used an adding machine from 1911 to demonstrate his argument. He said, “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,” referring to the 18th century All Writs Act.

Bloomberg  reported that Google’s parent Alphabet, Facebook, and Twitter will also file separate amicus briefings in support of Apple.

Privacy advocates weigh in on Apple’s side

Numerous organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Tor Project, Mozilla, DuckDuckGo, and more have come out in support of Apple. And a few of the big players have stayed mum on the issue, or are at least slow to weigh in.

Reform Government Survelliance (RGS) has issued a statement throwing its support, unsurprisingly, with Apple. The group has sent letters to the Senate and to The White House before, defending the use of encryption. It’s a coalition of leading tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Twitter, AOL, and Dropbox.

“Reform Government Surveillance companies believe it is extremely important to deter terrorists and criminals and to help law enforcement by processing legal orders for information in order to keep us all safe,” according to the statement. “But technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers’ information.”

You can follow all our Apple vs. FBI coverage here.

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