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Tech leaders have been staking out their positions over the Apple – FBI security fiasco.
On Wednesday evening, Google CEO Sundar Pichai posted a series of Tweets addressing the issue.
“Important post by @tim_cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy,” Pichai wrote. “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. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent. Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue,” he concluded.
On Thursday, Facebook issued a statement, offering support to Tim Cook’s cause.
“Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services,” the company said. “We also appreciate the difficult and essential work of law enforcement to keep people safe. However, we will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products.”
On Tuesday, a federal magistrate-judge ordered Apple to create a weaker version of its operating system in order to gain access to the iPhone 5C belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers.
Tim Cook defied the order, instead publishing an open letter, outlining the company’s stance.
“[…] 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,” Cook wrote. “In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
“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.”
The standoff has far-reaching implications for both the channel and the tech industry at large, but the direct ramifications of Cook’s defiance are, as yet, unknown. Apple can appeal the decision by the US Magistrate Judge and instead take it to the federal judge overseeing the case.
Should the federal judge rule against Apple, which is likely, the phone-maker could then take its appeal to the federal judicial system's Ninth Circuit, going as far as the US Supreme Court.
If the order is upheld and Cook does not back down, Apple could be held in contempt of court. Best case scenario, Apple would be forced to pay hefty fines for each day it remained in contempt. As Apple is a publically traded company, and therefore an entity in its own right, its not quite clear if the CEO of the most valuable company on the planet could spend time behind bars.