True to its word, Microsoft joined 14 other tech companies to file an amicus, or friend of the court brief supporting Apple in the San Bernardino iPhone case.
Apple is fighting a court order to assist the FBI in unlocking an encrypted iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the suspects in the December mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. CEO Tim Cook said the order amounts to a demand by the government to create a backdoor into iOS. Last week, during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on law enforcement requests for cross-border data, Microsoft’s top lawyer Brad Smith, revealed that his company had plans to file an amicus brief backing Apple’s position.
On March 3, Microsoft made it official.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant joined a who’s who of technology companies to file the brief with a U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif. Microsoft aside, the 14 other companies are Amazon, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Nest Labs, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Yahoo.
Echoing the arguments made in the filing, Smith said in a March 3 blog post that the basis for the court order issued in support of the FBI’s request is well past its prime in this era of mobile devices and cloud technologies. The statute was enacted in 1789 and “significantly amended” for the last time in 1911, noted the Microsoft executive.
“We believe the issues raised by the Apple case are too important to rely on a narrow statute from a different technological era to fill the Government’s perceived gap in current law,” stated Smith, before reiterating his call for the U.S. Congress to take a stab at the issue. “If we are to protect personal privacy and keep people safe, 21st century technology must be governed by 21st century legislation,” he continued.
While Apple has amassed an army of influential allies, not all tech luminaries are on the Cupertino, Calif., device maker’s side.
Smith’s old boss, Bill Gates, made waves last week by supporting U.S. law enforcement in the matter. Downplaying Apple’s assertion that the company is being forced to create a backdoor, the Microsoft co-founder and former CEO said there was “no doubt Apple can make this information available and I don’t think there’s any doubt that when the courts eventually rule that they’ll follow whatever the court says to do,” in a Feb. 23 interview with the Financial Times.
Sharing FBI Director James Comey’s view on the case, Gates also said that the agency’s request was limited in scope, countering Apple’s argument that complying would have a harmful effect on iOS security. On Feb. 21, Comey wrote in a blog post that the relief the FBI seeks “is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve.”