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Microsoft 'Wholeheartedly' Supports Apple's Stance Against FBI Demands

Microsoft President Brad Smith said his company "wholeheartedly" backs Apple's refusal to cooperate with the FBI's demand that it decrypt the data on an iPhone owned by suspected terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who killed 14 people in December's San Bernardino, Calif. shooting attack.

Smith appeared yesterday before a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing investigating the contentious legal battle between the FBI and Apple. The clash has escalated since Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple will not comply with a California federal district court order issued last week by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym that required Apple to cooperate with the law enforcement agency's demands. The showdown between Apple and the FBI has pitted civil liberties proponents against those who believe Apple and the IT community have a duty to cooperate with law enforcement in the interest of national security, as reported Monday.

In his testimony, Smith backed Cook's proposal that Congress form a commission to investigate the issue, pointing out that the current laws are antiquated. "We do not believe that courts should seek to resolve issues of 21st-century technology with a law that was written in the era of the adding machine," Smith said in response to a question from Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

"We need 21st-century laws that address 21st-century technology issues," Smith continued. "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, to the House of Representatives and the Senate, so the people who are elected by the people can make these decisions."

A transcript and video of Smith's response to Lofgren's question regarding Apple is available here.

In his prepared remarks, Smith pointed to the overall need to "update outdated privacy laws," including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a key digital privacy law that was passed three decades ago. To showcase the changes in technology since then, Smith showed an IBM laptop with a monochrome display and a floppy disk, which was considered a modern system at the time, next to a new Surface Pro.

"When the U.S. House of Representatives passed that bill by voice vote on June 23, 1986, Ronald Reagan was president, Tip O'Neill was speaker of the house, and Mark Zuckerberg was 2 years old," he said. "Obviously, technology has come a long way in the last 30 years."

Until yesterday, Microsoft had been silent, at least publicly, on the dispute between Apple and the FBI, even though companies such as Facebook and Google backed Apple early on. It was nice to finally hear where Microsoft stands. Given its own actions when compelled by law enforcement, Microsoft's position isn't surprising.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/26/2016 at 10:37 AM


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