Twitter, Facebook stand with Apple in fighting FBI hack order

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have pledged to “stand with Apple” as it challenges a court order to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers saying that will “aggressively fight” attempts to weaken encryption, Britain’s the Guardian reported Friday.

A California magistrate on Tuesday ordered Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to break into an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the deadly December rampage that killed 14 people and has been linked to supporters of the Islamic State organization.

Apple quickly said it would fight the judge’s order. Chief executive Tim Cook called it “an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers,” and said the order “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

In a statement Facebook said on Thursday that “We condemn terrorism and have total solidarity with victims of terror. Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services,” according to the Guardian.

“However, we will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products,” it continued.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey voiced his support in a tweet. “We stand with @timcook and Apple (and thank him for his leadership)!”, he wrote.

Apple, Google and other technology firms in recent years have stepped up encryption — allowing only the customers to have “keys” to unlock their devices — claiming improved security and privacy is needed to maintain confidence in the digital world.

That drive for privacy has prompted sharp objections from law enforcement and intelligence officials, who claim that criminals and extremists are able to hide their illicit activities thanks to device encryption.

“This is a clever move by the FBI to move from the legislative arena, where they were not winning, to the courts,” said Joseph Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights group.

Raising privacy hackles

The order raised hackles among privacy advocates, which see the potential to unleash unbridled surveillance in the United States and elsewhere.

“If the FBI can force Apple to hack into its customers’ devices, then so too can every repressive regime in the rest of the world,” said Alex Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Apple also came under attack for thwarting a critical security investigation.

“Apple chose to protect a dead ISIS terrorist’s privacy over the security of the American people,” said Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

“Regrettably, the position Tim Cook and Apple have taken shows that they are unwilling to compromise and that legislation is likely the only way to resolve this issue.”

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New York City police commissioner William Bratton welcomed the order and added, “We cannot give those seeking to harm us additional tools to keep their activity secret. I reiterate my call on Congress to act immediately in passing legislation to provide law enforcement the tools we need to keep America safe.”

White House spokesman John Earnest said the White House supports the request by the FBI and Department of Justice.

“They are not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to one of their products,” Earnest told reporters.

“They’re simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device.”

According to the Guardian, the topic also came up at Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders looking towards a compromise between the two sides.

“This is one of the most difficult dilemmas that we’re faced with … What I keep calling for is to try to get the government and our great tech companies to figure out what is the path forward … I see both sides, and I think most citizens see both sides … I’m really making a plea that the government and the tech companies keep working together to see if there isn’t some legitimate way to deal with these very real problems that we deal with,” Clinton said.

Sanders voiced a “I’m on both [sides]. This is a very complicated issue,” said Sanders. “I am very fearful in America about ‘big brother’ and that means not only the federal government getting into your emails or knowing what books you’re taking out of the library … I worry about that very much. On the other hand, what I also worry about is the possibility of another terrorist attack against our country … Clearly all of us would be very dismayed if we learned that we could’ve picked up information about a potential terrorist attack and we didn’t do that.”