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Tech rivals join Apple's legal fight against FBI
By Rob Lever
Washington (AFP) March 3, 2016

French deputies seek to punish phone makers who don't help terror probes
Paris (AFP) March 3, 2016 - French parliamentary deputies, defying government wishes, on Thursday voted in favour of penalising smartphone makers who fail to cooperate in terrorism inquiries, entering a controversy which has pitted the FBI against Apple in the United States.

The move came in the form of an amendment to a penal reform bill which was receiving its first reading in parliament.

The wider bill foresees the end in May of the state of emergency in place in France since deadly jihadist attacks in Paris last November.

Given the government's reluctance to take on the big phone companies in this way, it remains to be seen whether the thrust of the amendment can survive the lengthy parliamentary process which remains ahead of the bill becoming law.

The controversial amendment, drafted by the right-wing opposition, stipulates that a private company which refuses to hand over encrypted data to an investigating authority would face up to five years in jail and a 350,000 euro ($380,000) fine.

Telecoms operating companies would be liable to lesser penalties, but still up to two years in jail.

The move in France came the day after a broad array of technology firms joined Apple's legal fight on encryption in the United States, warning of a dangerous precedent if the company is forced to help the government break into a locked iPhone.

Apple has argued that the only way to unlock the phone is to introduce a weakened operating system, which could potentially leak out and be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.

The FBI has argued that by introducing encryption which can lock data, making it only accessible to the user, Apple and others are essentially creating "warrant proof zones" for criminals and others that will cripple law enforcement and jeopardise public safety.

Pentagon chief wary of tech 'back doors'
Washington (AFP) March 3, 2016 - US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has said he opposes high-tech "back doors" that would allow the government access to encrypted data on people's phones and other devices.

The Pentagon chief's views come amid a legal battle between Apple and the FBI, which is trying to force the tech giant to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attacks last December.

"Just to cut to the chase, I'm not a believer in back doors or a single technical approach to what is a complex and complicated problem," Carter said to applause at a tech event in San Francisco on Wednesday, according to a transcript.

"There isn't going to be one answer," Carter added.

"I don't think we ought to let one case drive a general conclusion or solution. ... We have to work together to work our way through this problem."

The FBI has said it does not want a back door, but needs Apple's help cracking the iPhone's passcode.

Apple has argued that the FBI is effectively asking the company to hack its own devices and create a back door that malicious actors could exploit, and many in the tech industry worry the case would lead to a slew of similar requests.

Apple's refusal to help the FBI has set off an intense political debate about encrypted devices.

The iPhone in question belonged to Syed Farook, a US citizen.

Along with his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik, Farook gunned down 14 people in the Californian city of San Bernardino.

A broad array of technology firms and activists joined Apple's legal fight over encryption Thursday, warning of a dangerous precedent if the company is forced to help the government break into a locked iPhone.

Three tech associations representing Apple's main business rivals -- including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo -- announced a joint brief supporting Apple's efforts to challenge an order that would require it to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.

"If the government arguments prevail, the Internet ecosystem will be weakened, leaving Internet users more vulnerable to hackers and other bad actors," said a statement from the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which announced a joint amicus brief with the Internet Association and the i2Coalition of Internet infrastructure firms.

The three associations said their brief was set to be filed before the midnight deadline in federal court in California, where the case is being heard.

A number of other companies and associations are also expected to file briefs in the case, which has divided the American public and set off a highly charged debate about what limits should be placed on law enforcement access to digital devices.

"There is broad and deep concern throughout many types of companies throughout the tech industry that there is a potentially dangerous precedent in this case," said Ed Black, president and chief executive of CCIA.

A joint filing was being prepared by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Snapchat, Evernote and Mozilla, according to Denelle Dixon-Thayer, chief legal officer for Mozilla Corporation.

"Tech companies should aspire to build 'unhackable' products," Dixon-Thayer said in a blog post.

"With this precedent, we could all be told not to build secure products in the first place."

The case stems from the FBI's efforts to access the locked iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the December attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people.

Apple has argued that the only way to unlock the phone would be to introduce a weakened operating system, which could potentially leak out and be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.

The FBI has argued that by introducing encryption that can lock data, making it accessible only to the user, Apple and others are essentially creating "warrant-proof zones" for criminals and others that will cripple law enforcement and jeopardize public safety.

The CCIA includes Apple rivals such as Amazon, Pandora and Samsung, and the Internet Association counts as members Dropbox, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook. Some firms are members of both, such as Google, which is also part of the i2Coalition.

- Twitter, cryptographers for Apple -

Twitter meanwhile filed another legal brief supporting Apple, together with 16 other tech firms including eBay, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Reddit.

"The government seeks unbounded authority to compel Apple to design software that does not currently exist and that will circumvent and undermine security measures intended to protect its users' data," the brief said.

This could "set a precedent that could be used in future cases to require (other tech firms) to provide technical assistance in a manner that undermines the very products they offer."

Intel announced its own legal filing supporting Apple, saying that it would be "an unprecedented step for the government to require a company to develop technology that weakens security in a commercial product."

"Such a move chills innovation," the chipmaker said in a statement.

AT&T joined the effort as well, saying the order expands law enforcement authority.

"Only Congress can address these issues in a sufficiently comprehensive, uniform, and fair manner," AT&T said.

A group of cryptographic experts also filed arguments in support of Apple's case on Thursday.

Forcing Apple to create a new operating system "increases the risk that the forensic software will escape Apple's control either through theft, embezzlement, or order of another court, including a foreign government," said the brief filed by the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society on behalf of several academic and private sector cryptographers.

Digital rights groups also backed Apple, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation arguing in its brief that the order would violate Apple's free speech rights by forcing it to write weakened software guaranteed with its digital signature.

It would be "akin to the government dictating a letter endorsing its preferred position and forcing Apple to transcribe it and sign its unique and forgery-proof name at the bottom," EFF argued in its brief endorsed by 46 technology specialists.

A separate filing by the Center for Democracy & Technology said the order "would set a precedent under which any company could be forced to spy on unknowing customers on behalf of law enforcement, and in the process be required to override its own security measures in ways that expose its users to malicious attacks."












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Previous Report
Apple ready for encryption 'conversation': lawyer
Washington (AFP) Feb 29, 2016
Apple wants a "conversation" to help settle a standoff with US law enforcement over accessing an encrypted iPhone, according to testimony prepared for a congressional hearing. In a statement prepared for the Tuesday hearing, Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell said the public should understand that "encryption is a good thing, a necessary thing" even if it makes the work of law enforcement mo ... read more

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