UN human rights chief warns of implications of Apple-FBI row

FILE - This Feb. 23, 2016, file photo shows a NY police officer stands outside the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue while monitoring a demonstration, in NY.

Apple has argued that the move would jeopardise the trust it has with its customers and create a backdoor for government agencies to access customer data.

A number of US tech companies and civil rights groups including Facebook, Microsoft and Google on Thursday filed briefs in support of Apple in the California court.

Apple's allies, in their briefs, made arguments that Apple could lose control of their code and the court battle could have far reaching implications for other companies' information security.

They said Apple wanted to portray the debate as "one in which the privacy interests of millions of Americans are at stake in order to obtain sympathy for its cause". The families also asserted that Apple "routinely modifies its systems" to comply with Chinese government directives.

The district attorney of San Bernardino County, Michael Ramos, has raised concerns about the possibility of a "dormant cyber pathogen" in the iPhone 5c used by a terrorist in attacks in the county on December 2. The court document contained no evidence to support the claim.

But Apple, backed up by privacy advocates and technologists, say that no matter its scope, the software would amount to a "back door" that hackers could use to crack all iPhones.

The tech and Internet industries largely coalesced around two filings.

The UN's support adds to that of technology giants from Microsoft Corp.to Google that have set aside rivalries to back the maker of the iPhone. "If Apple can refuse lawful court orders to reasonably assist law enforcement, public safety will suffer". Twitter is also expected to be part of the fight, but it is not expected to be part of the filing.

CALEA requires telephone companies to allow interception of communications, but notably excludes "information service" companies from such mandates. Apple and its supporters say the centuries-old federal law was not designed for the type of demand involved in bypassing the security of an iPhone or other modern device. "The solution is for Congress to pass new legislation that provides real clarity for citizens and companies alike". Also notable on that list is AT&T, the nation's second-largest wireless carrier.

Stephen Larson, a former federal judge, told Reuters last week that he is working on a brief with victims of the San Bernardino shooting who want the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to be able to access the data on the phone used by Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters.

Zeid's statement is a shot in the arm for Apple's appeal in the case.

Related news