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Apple vs. the FBI: Here's where everyone stands

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

You might have heard: The U.S. government wants Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The order, handed down by a U.S. magistrate judge, demands Apple (AAPL) write new software that would help the FBI get around the passcode so it can search the phone for evidence. And Apple isn't playing ball.

The FBI was successful in getting the order issued thanks to a law from 1789 for just this kind of situation: A federal court asking a third party to help a different government entity. But that doesn't matter -- this fight has quickly become an ethical one, and both prominent individuals and corporations are making it clear where they fall based on such lines.

So: On which side of the dividing line do the power players in and around Corporate America stand?

With Apple:

ACLU: The civil rights group released a statement calling the order "an unprecedented, unwise, and unlawful move by the government."

Amnesty International: In a similar statement, Amnesty said that Apple is, "right to fight back in this case: the FBI's request... would set a very dangerous precedent. Such backdoors undermine everyone's security and threaten our right to privacy."

Anonymous: On its official Twitter feed, the hacker group has been retweeting Edward Snowden and others sharing concerns about the FBI's request. Anonymous also said the White House, "willfully misrepresents what govt is asking Apple to do in order to expand surveillance powers."

Edward Snowden: The privacy crusader said on Twitter that the FBI is "creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around." He added: "This is the most important tech case in a decade."

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): This digital civil liberties group tweeted that, "Encryption backdoors would harm us all."

Google (GOOGL): CEO Sundar Pichai said on Twitter that "forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users' privacy" and it "could be a troubling precedent."

Information Technology Industry Council, a Washington advocacy group that represents the interests of the likes of Google, Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT), and others, said in a statement that the fight against terrorism, "is actually strengthened by the security tools and technologies created by the technology sector, so we must tread carefully."

Microsoft: The company has not issued its own statement, but CEO Satya Nadella retweeted a statement from Reform Government Surveillance, a group in which Microsoft was a founding member. The statement reads, in part, "Technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users' information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers' information." The Verge called it "tepid support" by Microsoft so far.

Mozilla, the maker of Firefox: The company tweeted that it stands with Apple, because "we should not set a dangerous precedent."

WhatsApp: CEO Jan Koum wrote on Facebook, "I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy... We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake."

Twitter and Square: Jack Dorsey, chief executive of both the social network and the payments platform, tweeted on Thursday evening, "We stand with Tim Cook and Apple (and thank him for his leadership)!"

Facebook (FB): First, the company released a statement on Thursday just after Jack Dorsey tweeted his support. The statement says: "We condemn terrorism and have total solidarity with victims of terror. Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services. We also appreciate the difficult and essential work of law enforcement to keep people safe. When we receive lawful requests from these authorities we comply. 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." Then, at Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona on Monday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "We're sympathetic to Apple on this. We believe in encryption."

John McAfee: The anti-virus computer programmer wrote an entire Op-Ed at the International Business Times on Thursday. The headline declared, "An Apple backdoor is like giving our enemies nukes." He continued that if the government gets what it wants, "Our world, as we know it, is over. In spite of the FBI's claim that they would protect the backdoor we all know that that is impossible."

Yahoo: While CEO Marissa Mayer hasn't said anything on the matter, Yahoo's chief information security officer, Bob Lord, tweeted on Friday, "Ordering a company to hack one targeted system is clearly the first step to ordering them to backdoor them all. #slipperySlope #usersfirst."

Against Apple:

China: Apple CEO Tim Cook writes in his open letter that, "in the wrong hands," software that could bypass the iPhone's passcode would be dangerous. As the New York Times writes, Apple and other tech companies have argued in the past that, "creating an opening in their products for government investigators would also create a vulnerability that Chinese, Iranian, Russian or North Korean hackers could exploit." Indeed, China, as a nation, is likely on the side of the U.S. in this case because it has proven, time and again, that its government does not place a premium on privacy rights and that it often takes its cues from what the U.S. does. If the FBI's order sets the precedent that even the U.S. believes there are moments when it can intervene and force technology companies to sacrifice privacy, China and other nations may follow.

National Security Agency: Last year, NSA director Mike Rogers joined FBI director James Comey in warning tech companies against employing encryption models that government and law enforcement cannot break when needed.

Donald Trump: In a Fox News appearance, Trump said that he agrees "100 percent" with the court order. "We should open it up," he said about the phone.

Bill Gates: The Microsoft co-founder has "broken ranks with Silicon Valley," as the FT put it, by siding with the FBI. He told the paper, "It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records. Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said, ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times.' This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case."

The White House: Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the FBI has the White House's full support in this fight, and defended the order based on its scope, saying the government is "simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device."

So the U.S. government is going up against Apple. And the government's associated arms and entities are, understandably, on the side of the order. But technology companies, and civil rights groups, are almost across the board staunchly siding with Apple.

Yahoo Finance will continue to update this post as more executives and companies make clear where they stand. It was last updated at 8:10am EST on Feb. 23.

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Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. 


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