U.S. wireless carrier AT&T filed a “friend of the court” brief Thursday in which it urged U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym to vacate her order requiring Apple to help the FBI break into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters.
Rather than deciding the issue in the courts, AT&T said, the matter should be taken up and resolved by legislators in Congress.
“This case involves two interests that all Americans share: keeping our citizens safe and protecting our personal privacy,” AT&T Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel David McAtee wrote in a blog post accompanying the filing. “In this case, however, the government seeks more than what can be supported under the law as it is written today.”
According to McAtee, it is more than time for Congress to revisit technology topics it last addressed in 1994. Additionally, he said, Congress is best positioned to thoroughly address the questions at issue in the Apple case.
“All of us—the government, the courts, consumers and companies—need clear and uniform rules that can be produced only through a broadly-informed, transparent and accountable legislative process,” McAtee wrote. “In the meantime, we should not consider the All Writs Act, which merely authorizes the judiciary to enforce existing law, as a substitute for that process.
AT&T’s comments come on the heels of a similar argument from Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam at the start of this week.
In a Monday blog post on business networking site LinkedIn, McAdam said giving the government a secret key to access private information “would degrade security and privacy for millions of users.”
Like McAtee, McAdam said Verizon believes the policy issues in question should be addressed by Congress, but noted the carrier “oppose(s) any solution that would place direct technical access in the hands of law enforcement.”
The tier-1 carriers are just the latest in a slew of technology companies – including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo – who have stepped forward to voice their support for Apple.
Though it condemned terrorism, Facebook said in a statement a decision against Apple would set “chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products.” Similarly, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said a forced hack of the iPhone could “compromise users’ privacy.”
A New York judge ruling on a similar but unrelated case earlier this week also sided with Apple, saying the government’s application of the 1789 All Writs Act was a stretch.
Some family members of victims and survivors of the San Bernardino attack, however, have argued that information on the iPhone in question could provide crucial evidence in the case, including the potential involvement of other parties or other undiscovered terror plots.
According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, it appears that public opinion favors the latter argument. Of 1,002 adults surveyed at the end of February, 51 percent said Apple should help the FBI gain access to the contents of the phone. Only 38 percent said the tech company shouldn’t unlock the device.
AT&T and Verizon, however, may get their wish.
On Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey and Apple’s representatives headed to Washington to stake out their positions before Congress in a formal hearing.
Filed Under: Industry regulations