UPDATE – 3/22/2016: In a victory for everyone who spoke out against security backdoors in our iPhones, the U.S. Department of Justice asked to cancel today’s hearing in the Apple iPhone case. While the fight isn’t over, we should be proud of our efforts so far to safeguard strong security for everyone. Thank you!
Today, Access Now delivered to the White House a petition signed by thousands of people asking the Obama Administration to call off the Department of Justice’s attack on our digital security. The petition was delivered just one day before the Department of Justice and Apple are set to meet in a California Court. The letter, signed by nearly 7,000 people, states:
Dear President Obama,
Encryption is vital for the protection of human rights like free expression and privacy, and it safeguards the internet economy. Billions of people around the world rely on encrypted services and products to protect their safety. However, the Department of Justice is attempting to compel Apple to build software to bypass the security features of iPhones that keeps the devices’ hard drives encrypted. This request would pave the way for government to compel companies to build in any number of vulnerabilities, which weakens our digital security infrastructure and, ultimately, hurts users while doing nothing to stop or prevent criminal activity. This request runs contrary to international law and policy and provides political cover for oppressive regimes to seek the same authority. Encryption saves lives and protects billions. Please ask the Department of Justice to withdraw their request.
The Department of Justice asked a court to order Apple to build a new version of its mobile operating system that would make it easier for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to bypass the encryption on an iPhone. The court granted the request. Apple is challenging the order, and both sides will meet in court tomorrow, where Magistrate Judge Shari Pym will hear oral arguments starting at 1:00 p.m. PT.
The Department of Justice is officially asking the court to weaken digital security in consumer devices, but the Department of Justice works for President Obama. In his remarks at last week’s SXSW conference, the president acknowledged the dangers of weakening encryption, including overreaching government surveillance and increased vulnerability to hackers and cyber attacks, but he’s still on the fence about it. Instead of supporting strong encryption across the board, President Obama cautioned against “taking an absolutist perspective” and “fetishizing our phones above every other value.”
President Obama is letting the Department of Justice create encryption policy. And it appears that the DOJ is looking to create a legal precedent in the context of a terrorist attack in order to employ the precedent in a wide variety of other contexts.
Access Now, and the thousands of people who signed this petition, call on President Obama to call off the Department of Justice and make clear that we deserve strong security.
Disclosure: Access Now submitted an amicus brief to the California court arguing that if Apple is forced to undermine our security, human rights would inevitably be violated.