Microsoft, Google to file pro-Apple amicus briefs


SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft and Google plan to file an amicus briefs in support of Apple, joining a growing list of companies and organizations backing the Cupertino company in its effort to resist an FBI request to create new code to break into its own products.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president, told Capitol Hill lawmakers Thursday that Microsoft "wholeheartedly supports Apple" in its tug of war with the FBI, which wants a back-door entrance to the iPhone of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino massacre.

A Google representative familiar with the situation confirmed that the company would file an unsolicited "friend of the court" brief in support of Apple. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that creating such a program would jeopardize the security of all its customers. Creating encryption-breaking code "is bad for America," Cook told ABC News anchor David Muir Wednesday, adding that such code would be the "software equivalent of cancer."

Apple filed its motion to vacate on Thursday. The Cupertino, Calif., iPhone maker is arguing that the government is employing too broad an interpretation of the All Writs Act, which can compel companies to turn over consumer information to law enforcement, and asking it to write code that violates its own corporate views on privacy and security.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is among those planning to file an amicus brief, which refers to an unsolicited "friend of the court" opinion.

"The U.S. government wants us to trust that it won't misuse this power," reads a statement on the EFF's website. "But we can all imagine the myriad ways this new authority could be abused. Even if you trust the U.S. government, once this master key is created, governments around the world will surely demand that Apple undermine the security of their citizens as well."

Also planning to file are the American Civil Liberties Union, whose staff attorney Alex Abdo said in a statement that "the government's request also risks setting a dangerous precedent. 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."

Amnesty International is taking similar action, echoing pro-Apple sentiments from the likes of NSA-data whistleblower Edward Snowden, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Meanwhile, the public at large appears evenly divided on the matter according to a number of polls. Some support the government's efforts to track terrorists by any means necessary, while others wonder about the slippery slope created by federal officials having unfettered access to personal information.

Smith's testimony made effective use of a prop from a century ago: an adding machine. In noting that the All Writs Act, which has allowed the government to get assistance from private companies in pursuit of criminal activities, was written in 1911, Smith said that the leading technological device in that time "is right here in front of me."

He added, "Put simply, we do not believe that courts should seek to resolve issues of 21st-century technology with law that was written in the era of the adding machine. We need 21st-century laws that address 21st-century technology issues. And we need these laws to be written by Congress. We, therefore, agree wholeheartedly with Apple that the right place to bring this discussion is here, to the House of Representatives and the Senate so the people who are elected by the people can make these decisions."

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter: @marcodellacava

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