Facebook, Google, Microsoft to join tech industry in supporting Apple in court

The court ordered Apple to assist the FBI to unlock an iPhone 5C

iPhone 5C
iPhone 5C phones await sale at the Apple Store in Palo Alto, California, on September 20, 2013 Credit: Martyn Williams

The tech industry is rallying behind Apple in its appeal against a court order asking it to help the FBI unlock an iPhone 5c, with Facebook, Google and Microsoft planning submissions in court in support of the iPhone maker.

“The industry is aligned on this issue and Facebook is participating in a joint submission with other technology companies," a spokeswoman for the company wrote in an email Thursday.

Other companies expected to join in making the submission are Twitter and Amazon.com, but there might be others.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ordered Apple last week to provide assistance, if necessary by providing signed software that would help the FBI try different passcodes by brute force on the locked iPhone 5C, without triggering an auto-erase feature in the phone. The device was used by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino, California, attack on Dec. 2.

On Thursday, Apple appealed the order, saying that at issue is not an isolated iPhone, but the Department of Justice and the FBI “seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe.” The company claimed the court order violated the U.S. Constitution.

On Thursday, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing that Microsoft supports Apple in the legal case with the FBI and will file a legal brief in support next week.

In the Apple case, the DOJ asked a magistrate to apply language in a statute called the All Writs Act “that was passed by Congress and written in 1911,” Smith said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

“The leading computing device of that era is right here in front of me. It is an adding machine that went on sale in 1912,” he added.

In the opinion of Apple, Microsoft and other tech companies, current laws are outdated and Congress needs to review the statutes.

Smith said at the hearing that Microsoft agreed with Apple that the right place to bring the discussion is  the House of Representatives and the Senate, so that those who are elected by the people can make these decisions.

The government had the opportunity to seek amendments to existing law to pursue its law enforcement interests, Apple said in its filing. "But rather than pursue new legislation, the government backed away from Congress and turned to the courts," it added.

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