Google and WhatsApp chiefs back Apple in backdoor fight

Sundar Pichai and Jan Koum have warned of the dangerous precedent that could be set if Apple is forced to develop software to help the FBI crack an iPhone 5C.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The CEOs of Google and WhatsApp have thrown their support behind Apple's decision to fight against a US Federal Court order requiring the company to develop a special version of iOS to help the FBI access data on a terror suspect's iPhone.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai took to Twitter to warn that compliance with the court order could compromise a user's privacy.

"We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism. We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders," he said.

"But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data. Could be a troubling precedent."

Pichai said he was looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on what he regards as an important issue.

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum posted on Facebook his support for Apple's stance.

"I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple's efforts to protect user data and couldn't agree more with everything said in their Customer Letter today," Koum said.

"We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake."

In a statement released on its website, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the court order was unprecedented and threatened the security of Apple customers.

"We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand," he said. "The FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation."

"The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."

A US magistrate ruled on Tuesday that Apple help the FBI access the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The FBI requires Apple's help to circumvent the auto-erase function in iOS, which wipes devices after an incorrect passcode is entered ten times, and for Apple to remove the delay that occurs between failed passcode attempts. Coupled with an ability to allow the law enforcement agency to electronically enter passcodes, these changes to iOS would allow the FBI to brute force the passcode on the device.

"The implications of the government's demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone's device to capture their data," Cook said.

"The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone's microphone or camera without your knowledge."

Apple has five days to comply with the order, or show that the court's demands are unreasonably burdensome.

Republican presidential nominee front runner Donald Trump called for "common sense" to prevail and for Apple to work with the FBI, CNN reported.

"I agree 100 percent with the courts," Trump said. "But to think that Apple won't allow us to get into her cell phone, who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up."

Trump said last month that he would force Apple to bring its manufacturing back to the US.

"We're going to get Apple to build their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries," Trump said at the time.

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