Today, Access Now and the Wickr Foundation, through outside counsel Marcia Hofmann at Zeitgeist Law PC, filed an amicus brief in the Central District of California in support of Apple. In the brief, amici explain how the government’s argument, if successful, would undermine encryption and violate the human rights of users both in the United States and around the world. The brief calls on the court to vacate its order.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. A loss for Apple in this case is a loss for human rights around the world. Encryption is vital to the safety of activists, journalists, and all other users around the world, protecting their most personal information from being compromised and used against them. In the most extreme cases, the strength of the encryption is actually a matter of life and death.
In the case, the FBI is asking Apple to write new software that will undermine the otherwise strong encryption on the iPhone, specifically an iPhone that was used by one of the suspects in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The FBI initially claimed that this case is only about this specific phone. However, given the several other cases that have come to light, as well as statements made by law enforcement agents in New York and California, it has become clear that the government is looking for a game-changing precedent.
As we make clear, the government’s argument could be re-purposed to push harmful software updates to other devices, applications, or (internet of) things. The threat of this use-case is already giving people pause before they install necessary updates, which are used to patch known vulnerabilities.
From the brief:
“The government insists that this case is about a single iPhone, and that the software solution it wants Apple to create will do nothing to weaken encryption. In reality, this case could set precedent for law enforcement demands to any technology company to impair security measures and has potential to do far-reaching harm.
“Deliberately compromising digital security undermines human rights around the globe. Pursuant to international law, the United States government has a duty to foster basic human rights such as freedom of expression and privacy. The assistance sought by the government not only undermines the commitment of the United States to uphold those fundamental rights in the digital age, but also keeps Apple from fulfilling its own responsibilities to respect the human rights of users.
“Technology and connectivity have empowered millions around the world to demand social and political change—but the same technology is exploited by criminals and authoritarian regimes to identify and persecute protesters, democracy activists, bloggers, and journalists. In some countries, reliable security tools such as encryption can be the difference between life and death for dissidents. The relief sought by the government endangers people around the world who depend on robust digital security for their physical safety and wellbeing.”
This case is ultimately about whether the most powerful institutions can and will respect the security measures essential to our human rights. Access Now, via our Digital Security Helpline and in our policy and advocacy work around the world, has seen the personal risks for those unable to secure themselves, and we’ve decided to stand with encryption.
The deadline for other amicus briefs is March 3rd. Apple is expected to receive broad support from technical experts, academics, members of Congress, and other companies and civil society organizations. Access Now has led a coalition of international groups, experts, and companies setting forth five tenets in support of a secure internet. You can read more at https://securetheinternet.org.