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Apple Warns Of Surveillance State If FBI Wins Encryption Case

If FBI wins, he says it could force Apple to turn on an iPhone user’s cameras and microphones.

[Photo: Flickr user Vernon Chan]

Apple senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue has issued a chilling prediction of the future, should the FBI triumph in its encryption unlocking battle with the company. Speaking to the U.S.-based Spanish-language Univision television network, Cue warned that any outcome favoring the FBI could lead to a surveillance state.

"When they can get us to create a new system to do new things, where will it stop?" Cue told Univision. "For example, one day the FBI may want us to open your phone's camera, microphone. Those are things we can't do now. But if they can force us to do that, I think that's very bad. That should not happen in this country."

The "new system" Cue mentions refers to the the FBI’s request that Apple create a new version of iOS for them with a back door in it so they can easily obtain access to data on a suspect’s iOS device. But Cue says such a new system wouldn’t only be used to fight terrorism, noting that the company has over 200 requests from law enforcement in New York City alone in which it wants Apple to help access suspects’ phones.

"These aren't going to be terrorism cases, they are going to be all sorts of cases," Cue said. "Where does this stop? In a divorce case? In an immigration case? In a tax case with the IRS?" He also noted that he was "sure" a judge would use any precedent that favors the FBI to obtain information in immigration cases.

"I never thought I'd be talking about a case in which we are against the FBI and the government," Cue said. "My parents came to this country for the same things, to have civil liberties, democracy. [This] is a very, very big case, about what the government can do. And to give such amounts of force to the government is not a good thing."

Cue also offered a new analogy to explain Apple’s issue with the FBI’s demands. "What they want is to give them a key to the back door of your house, and we don't have the key. Since we don't have the key, they want us to change the lock. When we change the latchkey, it changes for everyone. And we have a key that opens all phones. And that key, once it exists, exists not only for us. Terrorists, criminals, pirates, all too will find that key to open all phones."

Cue also stressed that people should not view this case as Apple versus the government. "It's Apple engineers against terrorists, against criminals. They are the people we are trying to protect people from," he said. "We are not protecting the government. We want to help. They have a very difficult job, they are there to protect us. So we want to help as much as possible, but we can not help them in a way that will help more criminals, terrorists, pirates."

And not everyone in the government wants back door access like the FBI does, Cue noted. "The Secretary of Defense, who is responsible for the NSA, wants encryption to continue getting more and more secure. Because he knows that if we create some way to get in, criminals and terrorists will get in. They don't want that."

Cue said Apple is willing to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, but he hopes it can be resolved in Congress after careful thought and deliberation. He is the second Apple executive to publicly comment on the case after Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi published an op-ed in The Washington Post saying the FBI wants to "turn back the clock to a less-secure time." Apple next faces off with the government in court on March 22nd.

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