Apple receives support from 32 large tech companies in fight against the FBI

Apple has received support of 32 of the world's largest internet, social media and technology companies in its fight with the FBI over the issue of unlocking the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters. The companies include Amazon, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Yahoo.

The companies filed two separate amicus briefs yesterday in the US District Court for the Central District of California, where Apple has challenged the FBI. Amicus curiae are parties not involved in a court case, they file these briefs to offer unsolicited additional information to a court, in the hope of influencing a case's outcome. The two filings add to the long list of law professors, civil liberties activists, and consumer groups supporting Apple in the case.

Both the briefs oppose the government invoking the All Writ's Act to force Apple to develop a special ''master key'' software version of its operating system that is capable of bypassing existing security measures, and ultimately grant authorities access to Farook's phone. Under the 227-year-old law, courts can issue orders to third parties when no other specific statute applied. It had earlier been used to compel telecommunications companies to install wiretaps or record phone conversations.

In case Apple were to go along with the FBI's request, it would set a dangerous precedent, according to the briefs. Law enforcement agencies of all types could demand that tech companies provide access to private user data and more worryingly, governments abroad could demand Apple do the same.

According to commentators, while this seemed an issue for technology industry to rally behind, many tech leaders were initially slow to express support for Apple in the matter. As the New York Times reported, a number of companies also had reservations over coming out in support of Apple publicly. Some had concerns whether this was the right fight to pick, while others were worried about public perception.

Those concerns seem to have been allayed, at least on the part of the companies who filed yesterday. Their briefs in support of Apple were clear and used language as forceful as Apple's own.