Tech companies unite behind Apple ahead of iPhone encryption ruling

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Tech companies unite behind Apple ahead of iPhone encryption ruling

Highlights opposition to anti-encryption movement.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and about a dozen other technology companies today filed a joint legal brief today asking a judge to support Apple in its encryption battle with the US government.

The effort is a rare display of unity and support for the iPhone maker from companies which are competitors in many areas, and shows the breadth of Silicon Valley's opposition to the government's anti-encryption effort.

The group filed what is known as an amicus brief - a form of comment from outside groups common in complex cases - to California federal judge Sheri Pym. She will rule on Apple's appeal of a court order that would force it to create software to unlock an iPhone associated with last December's shootings in San Bernardino.

Those lending their support were Amazon, Cisco, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Pinterest, Slack, SnapChat, WhatsApp and Yahoo.

The group said [pdf] that while they often compete "vigorously" with Apple and each other, they were speaking with one voice because of the "singular importance" of the case to their customers who trust them to safeguard their data.

While the companies said they share the grief and outrage at the San Bernadino shootings, they were united in the view that the FBI's order to Apple exceeded the bounds of existing law and would be harmful to the security of Americans in the long run.

"We stand against the use of broad authorities to undermine the security of a company’s products," Dropbox general counsel Ramsey Homsany said in a statement.

Semiconductor maker Intel plans to file a brief of its own in support of Apple, said Chris Young, senior vice president and general manager for Intel security group.

“We believe that tech companies need to have the ability to build and design their products as needed, and that means that we can’t have the government mandating how we build and design our products,” Young said.

The Stanford Law School for Internet and Society filed a separate brief this morning on behalf of a group of well-known experts on iPhone security and encryption, including Charlie Miller, Dino Dai Zovi, Bruce Schneier and Jonathan Zdziarski.

"The dangers of forcing companies to denigrate the security of their products and of allowing law enforcement to commandeer consumer devices for surveillance purposes are too great," the brief said.

Privacy advocacy groups the American Civil Liberties Union, Access Now and the Wickr Foundation filed briefs yesterday in support of Apple before today's deadline set by Pym.

Salihin Kondoker, whose wife Anies Kondoker was injured in the San Bernardino attack, also wrote on Apple's behalf, saying he shared the company's fear that the software the government wants Apple to create to unlock the phone could be used to break into millions of other phones.

"I believe privacy is important and Apple should stay firm in their decision," the letter said. "Neither I, nor my wife, want to raise our children in a world where privacy is the tradeoff for security."

Briefs are also expected in support of the government.

Stephen Larson, a former federal judge, last week said he was working on a brief with victims of the San Bernardino shooting who want the FBI to be able to access the data on the phone used by Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters.

"They were targeted by terrorists, and they need to know why, how this could happen," Larson said.

The fight between Apple and the government became public last month when the FBI obtained a court order requiring Apple to write new code and take other measures to disable passcode protection and allow access to Farook's iPhone.

Apple has pushed back, arguing that such a move would set a dangerous precedent and threaten customer security. The clash has intensified a long-running debate over how much law enforcement and intelligence officials should be able to monitor digital communications.

Law enforcement officials have said that Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were inspired by Islamist militants when they shot and killed 14 people and wounded 22 others last Dec. 2 at a holiday party. Farook and Malik were later killed in a shootout with police and the FBI said it wants to read the data on Farook's phone to investigate any links with militant groups.

Earlier this week, a Brooklyn judge ruled that the government had overstepped its authority by seeking similar assistance from Apple in a drug case.

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