The debate between the FBI and Apple over unlocking an iPhone used by a terrorist is gripping the tech world, and many prominent leaders have been weighing in over the past few days.
At the heart of the scandal is a court order forcing Apple to create software that would unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the gunman in the San Bernardino attacks that killed 14 people and left 22 injured. The FBI believes that the phone could contain “critical communications” but risks erasing its contents by attempting to crack the passcode on their own.
Apple is arguing that creating such software would jeopardize its reputation for protecting its customers and would put the safety and privacy of millions of iPhone users at risk.
While 51 percent of Americans are siding with the FBI according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, the opinion is generally skewed more in favor of Apple among tech giants.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google among those taking Apple’s side
WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum was one of the first leaders in the tech world to come out in support of Apple. He posted on Facebook that he agreed with Apple’s stance. He added: “We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.”
Meanwhile, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that forcing Apple to create a backdoor could prove to be a “troubling precedent”. He said: “We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg voiced sympathy for Apple’s position at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but he was careful to add that Facebook would help the government if the chance arose to help prevent terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, he added that he felt requiring backdoors in encryption was unlikely to boost security.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has tweeted his support for Apple and CEO Tim Cook, while tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban said Apple’s choice to defy the order deserved a “standing ovation”.
While Silicon Valley is generally quite supportive, only 38 percent of the Americans polled by Pew think Apple should refuse to comply with the court order.
Microsoft and AT&T taking a more cautious approach
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has not made any public statements about the issue. Yahoo has also been mostly quiet on the matter.
While Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said that he thinks the FBI’s request is more about access to specific information rather than forcing a general “back door” to be created, he does not think it’s accurate to say he backs the FBI.
He told Bloomberg: “I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf, like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future, that that is valuable.”
He is not alone in his measured response. AT&T Vice Chairman Ralph de la Vega called on Congress to set up clear laws balancing security with privacy, and the Pew Research Poll found that 11 percent of Americans are not sure which side they stand on.