Apple chief counsel, Bruce Sewell, will speak tomorrow (1 March) before the Senate Judiciary Committee as the battle with the FBI escalates and divides operators and tech companies.
Sewell is speaking on a hearing into the balance between national security and personal privacy.
Apple separately filed a motion asking the courts to throw out a federal judge’s order from two weeks ago which required the company to assist the FBI in gaining access to an iPhone which, the agency said, was used in the mass shooting in San Bernardino.
This issue has become a bellwether for company attitudes, indeed some argue a test of liberal values. It’s not easy to predict how individual opinions will fall.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai came out in support of Apple but Bill Gates opposed its position, arguing the case did not set a wider precedent and that Apple should cooperate with the law enforcers.
Quizzed last week at Mobile World Congress by Mobile World Live, BlackBerry referred to a mid-December blog by CEO John Chen about not creating backdoors while endeavouring not to help criminals and terrorists.
Chief operating officer Marty Beard also pointed out the debate is wider than the US: “We almost left Pakistan recently because we were asked to provide a backdoor which we did not do. We were very clear we would leave if the backdoor was a requirement. On the other hand, we comply with legal requests where it make sense.”
And similarly, mobile operators are dividing. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam took a pro-Apple stance: “Verizon is committed to protecting customer privacy and one of the tools for protecting that privacy is encryption. We support the availability of strong encryption with no back doors.”
He added: “The case with Apple presents unique issues that should be addressed by Congress, not on an ad hoc basis.” The latter point echoed AT&T’s view, which also said congress should decide where the line is drawn between the state and the individual.
However, during last week’s Mobile World Congress, Orange CEO Stephane Richard said: “Do I understand Apple’s position? No, honestly, it’s difficult for us to say we share it.”
Richard said he appreciated Apple’s stance on privacy but also saw the security services’ need “to have the maximum means to catch people who have bad intentions.” Orange’s home market of France only recently experienced a high profile terrorist attack, which perhaps has an effect on Richard’s position.
Vodafone’s Vittorio Colao was more ambiguous. “It’s very complicated, we don’t have a clear position.” He added that the group must respect the local laws everywhere it operates.
“We have privacy and customer safeguards as our number one value…I understand why Apple has a similar concern,” he added.
The comments from Colao and Richard were reported by Reuters.