Tech Executives Apple FBI fight collage

It’s likely common knowledge by now that the FBI and Apple are at war. The law enforcement agency has served the tech giant with a court order to create custom software to unlock the iPhone 5c of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, who, along with his accomplice, killed 14 and injured 22 in early December.  It’s an order Apple has publicly refused, saying that it would set a precedent for extracting data by essentially building a backdoor to its security-heavy technology.

Since the order, other high-profile executives in the tech industry have weighed in, and with perhaps government contracts on the line, they do not all seem to agree.

 

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

Tim Cook Apple CEO
Tim Cook, Apple CEO

The man at the centre of it all, of course, is Mr. Cook. The man charged with unlocking one little device with huge legal precedent had already been tasked, perhaps unbeknownst to many, with creating an entire operating system to undermine iOS security.  Dubbed by some as “FBiOS”, the operating commissioned by the American spy agency would have required the company to digitally sign the update, to be used to extract information.

This, in addition to two other attempts from the Department of Justice to force Apple to unlock a smartphone (still before the courts) naturally result in a company whose CEO is none too happy. What’s a chief executive, which in recent years has built a customer base on privacy, to do? “We oppose this order” he says.

Sundar Pichai, Google CEO

Sundar Pichai, Google CEO

Among the first to speak out in support for Apple was Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In a series of tweets, the recently appointed chief executive framed the order as excessive.

“Important post by Tim Cook,” the full text reads. “Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ 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. 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.”

Jan Koum, WhatsApp CEO

Jan Koum, WhatsApp CEO

Further support came from an usual place, namely WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum. In a short Facebook post in which he shared Apple’s letter to the public, the messaging app executive shared Tim Cook’s sentiment.

“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,” he said. “We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.”

Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO

Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO and co-founder

In a short but clear tweet, the social media exec voiced his support.

“We stand with Tim Cook and Apple (and thank him for his leadership)!” he said.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

Not all support is has so much enthusiasm, however. In a more tepid response, Facebook talked sentiment but was vague on action.

“We’re sympathetic with Apple on this one,” Zuckerberg said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. “We believe in encryption. I expect it’s not the right thing to try to block that from the mainstream products people want to use, and I think it’s not going to be the right regulatory or economic policy to put in place … But we have a big responsibility to prevent terrorism, and we want to help the governments prevent terrorism.”

John McAfee

John McAfee, founder of McAfee antivirus

Never one to back away from making headlines, McAfee wrote a recent column in Business Insider called “I’ll decrypt the San Bernardino phone free of charge so Apple doesn’t need to place a back door on its product.”

In it, he blasts the U.S. government for demanding the creation of what he says will be a tool used by the nation’s enemies, despite all efforts to advise against such a measure.

“The government has ordered a disarmament of our already ancient cybersecurity and cyberdefense systems, and it is asking us to take a walk into that near horizon where cyberwar is unquestionably waiting.” he wrote.

As an alternative, he is offering to decrypt the information on the phone within three weeks, so that a backdoor will not be needed.

Bill Gates, Microsoft
Bill Gates
In an interesting turn of events, Bill Gates has come out against Steve Jobs. Speaking with the Financial Times, the Microsoft founder said that the government is asking for specific information rather than general access.

“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,” he told the Financial Times.  These statements, however, ignore the Department of Justice’s previous orders.

While Microsoft has remained silent on the issue, Mashable notes that Reform Government Surveillance organization, of which it is a member, issued a statement stating “technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies.”

Windows 10 has been widely criticized for tracking and sending copious amounts of information about its users.


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Dave Yin
Digital Staff Writer at Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel.