More than 30 tech companies, including giants like Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter and Google, united Thursday in two legal filings to support Apple in its fight over an order to help the FBI unlock a terrorist’s iPhone.
The companies “speak with one voice,” they said in one filing, even though they compete bitterly with each other and Apple.
The filings, which were amicus or friend-of-the-court briefs, are the first official legal positions by Silicon Valley companies in Apple’s case. A locked iPhone linked to one of two shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, has sparked a heated debate about how to weigh national security and public safety against tools that could jeopardize the digital privacy of millions of people.
In their filings, the tech companies focused on the threat to their own businesses if they too were forced to violate their customers’ trust.
In the filing submitted by the biggest tech companies on the planet, such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other of the tech industry’s biggest companies, they noted their shared “grief and outrage at the heinous act of terrorism” but said the government’s order could harm Americans’ security in the long run if applied more broadly.
The government has no legal backing to “commandeer a company’s own engineers to undermine their products’ data security features,” they said. Their filing called out the FBI and Justice Department’s order for its “puzzling” contradiction to what the White House has been telling Silicon Valley to do: increase cybersecurity in consumer products.
A separate filing that was joined by Twitter, Kickstarter, Reddit and more than a dozen other tech firms said the case threatens the privacy, security and transparency that comprise the Internet, warning that the government’s demand, if backed by the court, could allow law enforcement to sidestep laws meant to protect consumers’ data.
The Twitter filing called the order an “extraordinary and unprecedented” effort to force a private company to turn itself into the government’s investigative arm. It reiterated Apple’s calls to move the debate out of the courts and into Congress, with the latest filing saying “the government is seeking to enlist the judiciary in re-writing laws.”
Both filings touted how tech companies publish detailed privacy policies. Though consumers routinely approve the pages-long files of legal jargon without reading more than a few words, the companies noted the documents show their efforts to be transparent about how customers’ data is used and safeguarded.
And both filings also buttressed the same legal arguments that Apple made last week in its motion to throw out the order. Apple argued that the order violates its First and Fifth Amendment rights and that it abuses a centuries-old law called the All Writs Act to force it into a burdensome task of creating dangerous tools for the government.
The filing submitted by the biggest tech companies was signed by Amazon.com, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest Labs, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Yahoo.
The other companies that joined Twitter, Kickstarter and Reddit in their brief were Airbnb, Atlassian, Automattic, CloudFlare, eBay, GitHub, LinkedIn, Mapbox, Medium, Meetup, Square, Squarespace, Twilio and Wickr.