By Chris StoneChanting “First your phone, then your home” and “Thank you, Tim Cook,” as many as 30 people rallied at Fashion Valley’s Apple store Tuesday in support of Apple’s decision to fight FBI efforts to unlock the iPhone’s privacy code.
The peaceful hourlong protest — part of a national series of rallies — began at 5:30 p.m. with a handful of people holding signs and speaking passionately about a slippery slope and government encroachment into citizens’ privacy.
Mall-goers and shoppers at the Apple Store then joined the group, some holding up Apple devices with messages supporting Apple CEO Cook’s efforts.
At the same time, lawyers for Apple Inc. signaled they would use a First Amendment argument to oppose government efforts to unlock a San Bernardino terror killer’s iPhone.
“In Apple’s fight to knock down a court order requiring it to help FBI agents unlock a killer’s iPhone, the tech giant plans to argue that the judge in the case has overreached in her use of an obscure law and infringed on the company’s First Amendment rights,” an Apple attorney told the Los Angeles Times.
At the Mission Valley mall, protesters including people with military encryption and security backgrounds held up messages saying: “FBI, don’t break my phone.”
Some protesters used the event to rail against the government. The group was mixed, but primarily featured older and middle-aged folks — and only a couple of young people. Some said they heard of the rally via social media.
People at the rally talked about all of the personal email and information on their phones that could potentially be an open book to strangers.
Bill Lamb, who said he worked in encryption while in the Navy, called the FBI’s request for access “incredibly shortsighted and myopic. They (FBI) just can’t see the big picture.”
“I think this is one of the big issues we have to face: How much can the government mess with our private lives?” Lamb said.
Lamb returned recently from Barcelona, where he lost his iPhone. Knowing that data on the phone would be erased if someone repeatedly tried to access the phone, he didn’t worry.
“It contained almost everything to know about me, but I knew it was OK,” Lamb said. Had there been a “key” to access his phone, “I wouldn’t have slept at all.”
Just as the U.S. government wouldn’t divulge military codes to other countries, Apple shouldn’t “give every criminal access to your data,” Lamb said.
David Jacobson of San Diego brought a sign to illustrate his disapproval of the FBI’s request. The opening of one phone could lead to access to all phones, he said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
Jacobson said he feared that if Apple consented to the U.S. government’s request, other countries might demand the same access in return for selling products abroad.
The L.A. Times quoted Apple lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous as saying: “The government here is trying to use this statute from 1789 in a way that it has never been used before. They are seeking a court order to compel Apple to write new software, to compel speech.”
“Boutrous said courts have recognized that the writing of computer code is a form of expressive activity — speech that is protected by the First Amendment,” the Times reported.
Rallies nationwide backed the company’s refusal to help the FBI access the cell phone of a gunman who took part in the killings of 14 people at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.
The group Fight for the Future was behind the national effort. Other Southern California rallies were planned in Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
“Breaking the security features of our iPhones won’t just hurt our privacy, it puts all of our safety at risk,” the group proclaims on its website. “Once a backdoor is built, there’s no way to ensure it will only be used by the government and law enforcement, and it will eventually leak either by malicious hackers, foreign governments, terrorists or thieves and stalkers to use our data against us.”
Federal authorities want Apple to help investigators access data on the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the man in the husband-wife terror duo that killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center on Dec. 2.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, based in Riverside, ordered the company last week to help the FBI access the password-protected phone, but Apple has resisted, saying such a move could compromise the security of all iPhone owners’ information.
Apple CEO Cook reiterated that position in a companywide email Monday.
“This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government’s order we knew we had to speak out,” Cook wrote. “At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.
“Our country has always been strongest when we come together. We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Acct and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and other personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed court papers in Riverside on Friday seeking an order compelling Apple to comply with Pym’s mandate. Federal authorities argue in the court papers that Apple has the technical ability to access Farook’s phone data.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos issued a statement Tuesday saying his main concern in the dispute is the shooting victims, who “deserve a voice in federal court.”
“These are victims who were murdered, terrorized and in some cases, continue to live in fear,” Ramos said. “It is our responsibility to assist them. We will continue to speak to them, inform them of the progress of the matter, offer them services and opportunity to be heard. We owe it to them to do everything we can to make sure justice is served.”
According to the court papers filed Friday, federal authorities suspect that Farook, 28, may have used the iPhone, which was issued to him by his employer — San Bernardino County, to communicate with some of the people he and his wife, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik killed.
“The phone may contain critical communications and data prior to and around the time of the shooting that, thus far has not been accessed, may reside solely on the phone and cannot be accessed by any other means known to either the government or Apple.”
Prosecutors also insist that their request will not compromise the data of other iPhone users.
“The order requires Apple to assist the FBI with respect to this single iPhone used by Farook by providing the FBI with the opportunity to determine the passcode,” according to the court papers.
“The order does not, as Apple’s public statement alleges, require Apple to create or provide a ‘back door’ to every iPhone; it does not provide ‘hackers and criminals’ access to iPhones; it does not require Apple to ‘hack (its) own users’ or to ‘decrypt’ its own phones; it does not give the government ‘the power to reach into anyone’s device’ without a warrant or court authorization; and it does not compromise the security of personal information.”
— City News Service contributed to this report.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: