Privacy Activists Rally Around Apple in 'Most Important Tech Case in a Decade'

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Privacy Activists Rally Around Apple in 'Most Important Tech Case in a Decade'

To defend users' privacy rights, Apple refusing to give government encrypted iPhone data in San Bernardino shooting case

Dozens gathered at Apple's flagship store on Wednesday to support the tech company in its privacy fight against the FBI. (Photo: Fight for the Future)

Supporters are rallying around Apple in a watershed privacy rights case against the FBI, with activists, whistleblowers, and activists all lining up to express their support of the tech company in its refusal to hand over encrypted information to the intelligence agency.

National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden said Wednesday in a series of tweets, "This is the most important tech case in a decade...The FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around."

Hours later, the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group representing some of Silicon Valley's most powerful companies—including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and others—released a statement that read, "Our shared fight against terrorism must be grounded in principle. We worry about the broader implications both here and abroad of requiring technology companies to cooperate with governments to disable security features, or introduce security vulnerabilities into technologies."

"Our fight against terrorism is actually strengthened by the security tools and technologies created by the technology sector, so we must tread carefully given our shared goals of improving security, instead of creating insecurity," the Council continued.

And dozens of people rallied at Apple's flagship store in San Francisco on Wednesday evening in a rapid-response event organized by the digital rights group Fight for the Future, which is planning additional actions next Tuesday.

There's something in the air...

The FBI, with the help of a federal judge, is demanding that Apple unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the suspected San Bernardino shooters, which the tech company says is essentially a demand to build a backdoor to encryption, threatening all of its users' privacy rights and enabling a dangerous expansion of the government's authority.

"Governments have been frothing at the mouth hoping for an opportunity to pressure companies like Apple into building backdoors into their products to enable more sweeping surveillance," said Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future. "It’s shameful that they’re exploiting the tragedy in San Bernardino to push that agenda."

Other whistleblowers also expressed their support of Apple's stance. Mark Klein, an AT&T technician who exposed the telecom company's cooperation with the NSA in 2006, said Wednesday, "It's nice occasionally to have a company that has the balls to stand up to the government. The government—especially people like [CIA Director John] Brennan—is trying to brow beat everybody using the threat of terrorism. This allows the government to continually expand its powers."

And the San Francisco-based digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is planning to file an amicus brief in support of Apple, released this statement: "We are supporting Apple here because the government is doing more than simply asking for Apple’s assistance. For the first time, the government is requesting Apple write brand new code that eliminates key features of iPhone security—security features that protect us all. Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone.

"And once that master key is created," EFF wrote, "we're certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security."

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