Google CEO Comments on Apple FBI Case

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google's Sundar Pichai turns to Twitter to give his views on the court order compelling Apple to help the FBI unlock a terrorist's smartphone.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Apple CEO Tim Cook took a bold and very public stance yesterday against a U.S District Court order compelling the company to assist FBI agents in unlocking the iPhone 5c cell phone of San Bernardino County, Calif., shooter Syed Farook. While Apple's views on government backdoors on cell phones are now very public, many observers were curious about the position of other tech giants with a stake in the mobile world.

In a series of five tweets posted Feb. 17, Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured) provided his first (and so far only) public comments about his position on the Apple FBI case. Pichai noted that Tim Cook's comments are important and that user privacy could be compromised if companies are forced to enable hacking.

Pichai also echoed Cook's comments that law enforcement faces challenges in protecting the public from terrorism. Cook noted in his public letter that Apple has no sympathy for terrorists and that Apple will do what it can to work with law enforcement.

"We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders," Pichai wrote. "But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data. Could be a troubling precedent."

Pichai added that he's "looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue."

Among those that were curious about Google's position on the Apple FBI case is National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"This is the most important tech case in a decade," Snowden wrote. "Silence means @google picked a side, but it's not the public's."

While Google is no longer silent, it hasn't outlined as complete a response as Apple has. For example, Pichai did not explicitly state that were Google confronted by the same circumstances as Apple, what the Google response would be. That doesn't necessarily mean that Google is on a different side than Apple, though. Pichai's use of the word "precedent" does, however, provide a hint of how Google will initially be part of the Apple FBI access debate. In this battle, Apple is going toe-to-toe in the legal ring with the FBI and the U.S. government and Google will be a very interested observer as the outcome will set a precedent for how Google will need to respond in the future.

What's also particularly interesting about Pichai's comments is that they were made on Twitter, rather than in a public letter posted on a Google-owned property. That says a lot about the continued impact and power of Twitter as the CEO of Google uses it for an important message. That said, Twitter was also the medium that Snowden used to challenge Google's CEO, and it's only fair to respond in the same medium.

Regardless of the medium or the message, the stakes in the Apple FBI case will have a profound impact on all parties and every cell phone owner in the world. It's a case in which opinions on all sides are likely not going to be lacking.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.