Tech giants rally behind Apple in FBI fight

Tech giants rally behind Apple in FBI fight
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Major tech companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook are coming to Apple’s aid in what could be a landmark legal battle against the FBI. 

The companies are preparing to file friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, which they have described as a line in the sand against the U.S. government.

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On Thursday, Microsoft president Brad Smith said Congress should decide the scope of American law enforcement powers — not a federal court.

"The real concern here is actually the law and the implications for the future," he said, pledging to file a brief in the case

Representatives for Yahoo and Facbook confirmed to The Hill that their companies would also file. A Twitter spokesman confirmed the plans publicly. Google, Amazon and other major players in the industry are all reportedly planning to follow suit.

It's unclear whether the companies will file individual motions or join together in one large filing. 

During a conference call with reporters Thursday, an Apple executive seemed confident that the company would enjoy broad support from fellow tech companies. 

The flood of legal support mirrors public comments made by many tech leaders in recent days, since a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California last week demanded that Apple comply with the FBI’s demand to build new software bypassing security mechanisms on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters. 

Almost uniformly, tech leaders claimed that the FBI was over-reaching on its demand, creating a dangerous precedent that could threaten everyone’s privacy and digital security in the future.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the most prominent tech leader to appear to break with the pack, walked back his initial comments that seemed to question Apple’s stance. Smith’s comments Thursday made clear that Gates’ company is firmly on Apple’s side.

Companies have until March 3 to file their supporting briefs, formally known as amicus briefs.

On the other side of the debate, victims from the deadly Dec. 2 shooting in San Bernardino are reportedly planning to file a brief of their own supporting the FBI’s call for Apple to access the iPhone of one of the killers in that attack. 

Fourteen people died in the incident, which is considered the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Digital protections have prevented the FBI from being able to access Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, posing what bureau Director James Comey has described as an obstacle to obtaining evidence about the killing.

The court order last week demanded that Apple create new software that disables a pair of security mechanisms preventing federal agents from breaking into the phone by “brute force” by using an endless series of passcodes until they stumble on the right one. 

Apple filed a formal brief on Thursday opposing the demand, which it called unconstitutional and claimed would set a “dangerous precedent” allowing the government to demand access to a slew of other companies’ devices. 

Mario Trujillo contributed