Civil rights organizations have expressed strong support for Apple’s resistance to a court order instructing it to create special firmware that would allow the FBI to break into an iPhone – with tech companies doing the same, albeit in a weaker fashion.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posted a statement in which it said that it applauded Apple for standing up for the rights of its customers, and would be making its views known to the court.

Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone. And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security […]

EFF applauds Apple for standing up for real security and the rights of its customers. We have been fighting to protect encryption, and stop backdoors, for over 20 years. That’s why EFF plans to file an amicus brief in support of Apple’s position.

The Verge notes similar support from both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International …

ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo said that the court order was unconstitutional, and Apple deserved praise for its stance.

This is an unprecedented, unwise, and unlawful move by the government. The Constitution does not permit the government to force companies to hack into their customers’ devices. […] Apple deserves praise for standing up for its right to offer secure devices to all of its customers.

Amnesty’s Deputy Director of Global Issues Sherif Elsayed-Ali echoed the widespread view that the case would set a dangerous precedent.

Apple is right to fight back in this case: the FBI’s request, which would in practice require Apple to rewrite its operating system to weaken security protections, would set a very dangerous precedent. Such backdoors undermine everyone’s security and threaten our right to privacy.

Unsurprisingly, Edward Snowden also tweeted his support for Apple, describing it as “the most important tech case in a decade” and quoting NYT piece that argued that if the US government was allowed to access iPhones, the Chinese government would demand the same.

I noted yesterday that other tech giants had remained quiet, but a number of them have since voiced their support for Apple’s stance – though as we noted on 9to5google, not always in the most unequivocal of terms.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai posted a series of five tweets in which he said the case could set “a troubling precedent.”

Important post by @tim_cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy. We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism. We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent. Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue.

Microsoft chose not to issue a statement directly, but instead quoted a statement on the Reform Government Surveillance website, an organization of which the company is a member.

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. 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.

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, however, used stronger language in a Facebook post in support of Apple.

I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple’s efforts to protect user data and couldn’t agree more with everything said in their Customer Letter today. We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.

A clear majority of 9to5Mac readers also support Apple’s stance. Some 86% of you said that Apple should maintain its current position, while 11% felt the company should cooperate with the FBI and 3% were indifferent. This is down from the 93% support expressed prior to the San Bernardino shootings and subsequent court order, but this is not surprising – we of course always feel sympathy for the victims and loved ones of specific attacks. But, as the old saying has it, hard cases make for bad law.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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