Access Now and Wickr file amicus brief in support of Apple and human rights

Apple case will have profound implications for human rights that must be considered by the court

(March 2, 2016 ) — 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.

“A loss for Apple in this case is a loss for human rights around the world,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “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.”

“This case is ultimately about whether the most powerful institutions can and will respect the security measures essential to our human rights,” added Drew Mitnick, Access Now Policy Counsel. “Access Now has seen the personal risks for those unable to secure themselves, and we will continue to press for strong encryption.”

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 Bernadino 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 this brief makes clear, the government’s argument could be re-purposed to push harmful software updates to other devices or applications. Even the threat of this use-case is giving users pause before installing necessary updates, which are used to patch known vulnerabilities.

Nico Sell, Chairman of Wickr Foundation, said, “When the Web is a global ecosystem, everything we do in a California court will have far-reaching international consequences, especially for the most at-risk groups living under oppressive regimes — human rights activists and reporters. Surveillance capabilities, previously available to only the most sophisticated state-level intruders, are now aggressively deployed by low-level criminals and authoritarian regimes against consumer tech. Through our training programs, we are seeing that even the most experienced journalists and democracy activists may be unintentionally leaking sensitive information simply by using mobile phones and consumer applications that are continuously collecting data and prone to attacks. It ought to be our goal to build our security up instead of deliberately weakening technology.”

The deadline for other amicus briefs is March 3rd. Apple is expected to received 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.