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Microsoft plans to back Apple in court

Microsoft plans to back Apple in court
© Getty Images

Microsoft will file a legal brief next week supporting Apple in its encryption fight with the government, according to the company's president. 

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Brad Smith told lawmakers that the government should not use a century-old law to resolve questions about today's technology. 

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"In the Apple case, the Justice Department has asked a technology company to apply language in the All Writs Act that was passed by Congress and written in 1911. The leading computing device of that era is right here in front of me," he said, signaling to a prop that he brought to the hearing. "It is an adding machine that went on sale in 1912. We do not believe that courts should seek to resolve issues of 21st century technology with law that was written in the era of the adding machine."

"We need 21st century laws that address 21st century technology issues," he added. "And we need these laws to be written by Congress. We therefore agree wholeheartedly with Apple that the right place to bring this discussion is here."

Microsoft had been largely silent on the issue until Thursday.  

"The real concern here is actually the law and the implications for the future," Smith said, when asked if the case has broader implications. "And the only way to get the law right for the future is for Congress to act." 

Apple is at the center of a high-profile encryption fight with the government after resisting a court order to help law enforcement access the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The government has asked Apple to develop new software that would bypass a security feature so that the government can try an unlimited number of attempts to break the iPhone’s lock screen. 

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who is no longer at the company, earlier this week departed from other tech leaders on the topic. Mirroring the government’s argument, he said the FBI is not seeking a “back door” by asking for help to unlock this single iPhone. 

“Apple has access to the information,” he told the Financial Times. “They’re just refusing to provide the access and the courts will tell them whether to provide the access or not. You shouldn’t call the access some special thing.”

The CEOs of other major companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have publicly supported Apple. Microsoft, however, had previously only pointed to a statement released by a trade group last week. 

Without mentioning the Apple case specifically, the group Reform Government Surveillance said it is extremely important to process government legal orders, but added that technology companies should not be required to build back doors into their technologies.