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Apple gets legal support from the tech industry, as well as a victim's husband

Susie Ochs | March 4, 2016
Amicus, or "friend of the court," briefs are expected from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, the ACLU, security experts, and others.

Apple’s first hearing in the San Bernardino case, in which it’s resisting a request from the FBI to create a new version of iOS to let law enforcement hack an iPhone 5c used by shooter Syed Farook, is scheduled for March 22. But friend of the court—or amicus—briefs are due to federal Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym by the end of the day Thursday, and several key organizations have filed in support of Apple’s tough defense of encryption.

Google, Facebook, and Microsoft plan to file a joint brief in support of Apple, according to sources cited by Reuters. And already, briefs have been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Access Now and the Wickr Foundation; ACT/The App Association; and a group of iPhone security and applied cryptography experts including (among others) Bruce Schneier of Harvard and Jonathan Zdziarski.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, Internet Association, and i2 Coalition (all industry groups Apple is not a part of) are filing a joint friend of the court brief today as well. It will argue that the government’s request under the All Writs Act “conflicts with existing laws like CALEA that limit government access to categories of encrypted data,” and that the demand to create new technology “is unprecedented under the more than 200 year history of the All Writs Act.”

Apple has compiled a page that links to PDF versions of the briefings and will update it as more come in.

Why this matters: Apple is taking a bold, principled stand in this case because it believes that losing could set a precedent that makes strong encryption essentially illegal. While this particular case is about a terrorist attack everyone agrees is horrific and should be investigated, it’s important for others in the tech industry to lend their support and point out the larger implications for the industry and our society as a whole.

Still, this support wasn’t a given. According to the New York Times, “Several executives at tech companies supporting Apple said they were worried that Apple had picked a fight that could end up backfiring on the rest of the industry.”

Letters to the court

Anyone wishing to provide a legal brief must first apply for permission to file, but Pym has also received some “letters to the court” in support of Apple’s position. One letter (PDF) is even from Salihin Kondoker, the husband of one of the shooting’s victims (his wife Anies was shot three times but fortunately survived).

It’s a fascinating read. Kondoker slams the FBI (“I’m very disappointed in the way they’ve handled this investigation”), calls for stronger gun laws (“It was guns that killed innocent people, not technology”), and expresses doubt that anything useful will be on the iPhone anyway. Like the shooter, Anies Kondoker was issued an iPhone by her employer, San Bernardino County. According to her husband, she didn’t use it for personal business, since the phones’ GPS and communications could be tracked by the County. “This was common knowledge among my wife and other employees,” he wrote.


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