Apple draws both more support and more criticism in fight against FBI

Lavabit, the secure email company that shut down in 2013 rather than hand over its encryption key to the U.S. government, has joined the growing list of companies filing amicus briefs on Apple’s behalf as it battles the FBI in court, TechCrunch reports. In the brief, Lavabit details the “extraordinary assistance” the FBI demanded three years ago, after public disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden led authorities to the company’s email service. “In the same vein, the government now seeks extraordinary assistance from Apple,” Lavabit wrote, arguing that “the government’s extraordinary request eviscerates the purpose of the All Writs Act, and unnecessarily compromises the proprietary intellectual property of a private company that has not been implicated, in any way, with the crime under investigation.”
The brief concludes that users could opt to stop installing critical iOS security improvements out of fear that new versions of the operating system include a means to spy on their communications, leaving the greater iOS commuity vulnerable to attacks from criminals that Apple is currently able to keep at bay with regular updates. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi underscored that point, saying that in the millions of lines of code written by Apple engineers, mistakes will happen.

“A mistake can become a point of weakness, something for attackers to exploit. Identifying and fixing those problems are critical parts of our mission to keep customers safe. Doing anything to hamper that mission would be a serious mistake,” Federighi wrote.

Citing instances where hackers have breached retail chains, banks and even the federal government, Federighi said Apple’s fight to deliver its customers “the best data security available to consumers” is a critical line of defense against criminals. But NYPD counter-terrorism chief John Miller said Apple’s decision to withhold its user data makes the company guilty of aiding criminals, The New York Daily News reports.

In an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis, Miller said he doesn’t know what compelled Apple to design a system that makes them unable to aid police investigations in the first place. “You are actually providing aid to the kidnappers, robbers and murderers who have actually been recorded on the telephones in Riker’s Island telling their compatriots on the outside, ‘You gotta get iOS 8. It’s a gift from God,’ — and that’s a quote — ‘because the cops can’t crack it,’” Miller said.

Even the United Nations has weighed in on the issue, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urging authorities to proceed with caution in their case against Appple to guard against the “potentially negative ramifications for the human rights of people all over the world.” While Hussein said the FBI deserves full support in investigation the San Bernardino terror attack, he cautioned against unlocking a Pandora’s Box that’s “potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes.” “Encryption tools are widely used around the world, including by human rights defenders, civil society, journalists, whistle-blowers and political dissidents facing persecution and harassment,” Hussein said. “Encryption and anonymity are needed as enablers of both freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to privacy.