Protesters Set to Back Apple in FBI Fight

VOA News

Supporters of Apple in its objections to helping the FBI break into an iPhone used by a mass shooter are planning demonstrations in more than 40 cities Tuesday, including at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington.

A digital rights group called Fight for the Future is organizing the events at Apple stores in places such as New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Hong Kong and London.  It says it is critically important to support efforts to keep personal information safe, and that devices will become more vulnerable if the government wins its legal battle with Apple.

U.S. authorities want Apple’s help to unlock a phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who, along with his wife Tafsheen Malik, killed 14 people last year in San Bernardino, California.

Apple has refused, saying the FBI is asking for what amounts to a backdoor around the company’s enhanced encryption, and that, in the wrong hands, that software would open countless Apple users to searches of their phones in the future.

Bill Gates’ reaction

Microsoft founder Bill Gates told the Financial Times that the government is not asking for a back door, but rather for information in a specific case.

“Apple has access to the information. They’re just refusing to provide the access and the courts will tell them whether to provide the access or not,” he said.

A federal magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI last week, and the government filed a motion asking the court to force Apple to comply.  The order says Apple must help authorities bypass an auto-erase feature that wipes out data when 10 incorrect passwords are entered.  The FBI does not know Farook’s password, and needs the auto-erase feature disabled so it can repeatedly try password combinations to find the right one.

Apple has until Friday to file its opposition to the government’s motion, and a hearing in the case is scheduled for March 22.

The Pew Research Center released a survey Monday of more than 1,000 people with 51 percent of them saying Apple should unlock the iPhone and 38 percent siding with the company.  Eleven percent had no opinion.

A lawyer representing some relatives of the 14 people killed in San Bernardino said he would soon file a statement supporting the judge’s order requiring Apple to help authorities.

Apple is continuing its fight against the order, with chief executive Tim Cook on Monday telling the firm’s customers that the U.S. government’s demands are “chilling.”

In an open letter to millions of its customers, Cook said the technology giant has “no sympathy for terrorists.”  But he said building a tool to access Farook’s phone would leave Apple users vulnerable to searches of their financial and health records and monitoring of their location and the pictures they take.

“No reasonable person would find that acceptable,” Cook said.

‘About victims and justice’

FBI Director James Comey insisted the government is not trying to set any precedent for future cases or “set a master key loose on the land,” which Cook contends is exactly what would happen.

Comey said “it is about the victims and justice,” and that the tensions between privacy and safety should not be resolved by corporations or the FBI, but rather the American people.

Cook said that if the FBI wins the case and forces Apple to create a backdoor into its iPhones, law enforcement agents from throughout the U.S. “have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock.”

He said Apple believes “the only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.”  Cook also suggested the formation of a “commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms,” adding that Apple would take part in such an effort.

The case is the latest to showcase the frustrations of law enforcement officials who complain that newer encryption methods used by companies like Apple make it harder to carry out investigations involving the use of technology by criminal suspects.  Apple strengthened encryption of its phones in 2014 amid increased public concern about digital privacy.

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