Microsoft, Google, Facebook Back Apple in Blocked Phone Case

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Apple: Ten Engineers Could Unlock Terrorist's iPhone
  • Companies expected to file briefs in support next week
  • Microsoft's Smith says every case has implications for others

Microsoft Corp. will file an amicus brief next week to support Apple Inc. in its fight with the U.S. government over unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone, President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said at a congressional hearing Thursday to discuss the need for new legislation to govern privacy.

Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. plan to file a separate industry brief according to people familiar with the matter, and Twitter Inc. said it expects to join a friend of the court brief as well.

Apple is refusing to comply with a court order requiring it to create tools that will make it easier for FBI investigators to unlock the phone used by one of the attackers in the December massacre in San Bernardino, California. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has called the demand nothing less than a threat to civil liberties.

In its response to the court Thursday, Apple asked it to set aside a Feb. 16 order to help the FBI. Apple argued the Justice Department has overstepped its authority, contending it isn’t just about one iPhone, but about the government usurping its power to undermine privacy for millions of people worldwide. The case has the potential to be taken up by the Supreme Court.

“Every case has implications for others,” Smith said at the hearing.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said at a different hearing that the government isn’t looking to send a message, but acknowledged that the case may set a precedent.

Microsoft has so far not commented on the case beyond participating in a statement last week from an industry group that said while it’s “extremely important” to deter crime and terrorism, no company should be required to build back doors to their own technology.

Microsoft itself is fighting the U.S. government over an order to turn over a suspected drug trafficker’s e-mails that are stored in one of the company’s data centers in Ireland. Apple has backed Microsoft in that case, which is waiting on the ruling of an appellate court in New York.

Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told Bloomberg Television he was “disappointed” by reports that he supports the U.S. government in this dispute, saying it doesn’t accurately reflect his opinion.

“That doesn’t state my view on this,” he said in an interview on “Bloomberg Go.” “The extreme view that government always gets everything, nobody supports that. Having the government be blind, people don’t support that.”

The Financial Times reported that Gates sided with the U.S. government, saying that the court order requiring Apple to help unlock the phone was a one-time request and “no different” from accessing bank and telephone records.

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