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Apple's fight against the FBI is hitting the streets

Anne-Sophie Brändlin
February 23, 2016

Data protection activists have called for rallies in front of Apple stores in 50 cities worldwide today. They'e supporting Apple's fight against the FBI to not having to encrypt the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter.


Tech-giant Apple and the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been battling over whether Apple has to unlock the iPhone of a terrorist for months.

Now Apple is gaining support from its users, who are staging rallies on Tuesday, February 23, to protest against the FBI's demand to have Apple help investigators find a "back door" into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter.

Under the hashtag #DontBreakOurPhones, protesters will gather at 5:30 pm local time in front of Apple stores in 50 cities - mainly within the United States but also in cities like London and Munich.

The protests are organized by the digital rights group "Fight for the Future," which is known to stage protests on tech issues.

The first protest was staged last week already, when dozens showed up in front of the Apple store in San Francisco.

The first international protest, however, which was supposed to take place in Hong Kong today, had to be cancelled. According to the following tweet, the organizers were tipped off to the police.

In Germany, protests are planned for Wednesday, February 24.

What’s the fight all about?

For months, the FBI has been trying to crack the iPhone 5 of the dead San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed more than a dozen people in an attack last December.

They want to access data hidden inside of his phone because they believe there are some critical communications around the time of the shooting and that the phone might hold clues to finding more terrorists. So they've asked Apple for help to unlock his phone.

USA Anschlag in San Bernardino - Täterehepaar Flughafenfoto
This couple, connected to so-called IS, killed more than a dozen people in a shooting in San Bernadino, CaliforniaImage: Reuters/US Customs and Border Protection

But the tech-giant fears complying with the FBI's order to disable an auto-erase feature that kills all data on a phone after 10 failed attempts at unlocking the device is making their iPhones vulnerable to hacking.

After all, overwriting the auto-erase function and helping create de-encryption software is allowing intelligence agencies to access data via so-called back doors. And that's a major security concern.

Creating a dangerous precedent

You never know, Apple says, if such a back door is used once, it might be used again and there is no way of knowing by whom and how often. The tech-giant is concerned that essentially, it could open a "Pandora's box" and compromise the privacy of millions of Apple users.

And who knows what the next request by the government will be - maybe Apple is supposed to record conversations or track locations next. According to Apple, the move would simply create a dangerous precedent.

That's why the tech-giant has opposed the order by the United States government thus far, saying it would have "implications far beyond the legal case at hand."

In an open letter to his customers, Apple's CEO Tim Cook explained the move would make personal information stored on iPhones more accessible to hackers and criminals, saying that "we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake."

Support by big names

And it seems like his call was heard. It's not just Apple users who are hitting the streets today in support of Apple's stance against the FBI. The world's biggest company has also received the support of big names like Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey tweeted the following:

Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the United States National Security Agency (NSA), revealing numerous global surveillance programs, has spoken out in favor of Apple as well.

The hacktivist movement Anonymous has also gotten involved, calling for people to attend the protests today.

And even #BlackLivesMatter activist Deray McKesson, who is currently running for mayor in Baltimore, has weighed in on the issue.

It seems like the protests have managed to raise awareness and educate people about the concerns over privacy breaches. The hashtag #DontBreakOurPhones has been used more than 10,000 times in the past two days alone.


But there are also plenty of people who say Apple and its customers are exaggerating and should comply with the FBI's request.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates told the Financial Times that he backs the FBI's request to hack the gunman's iPhone and that technology companies should be forced to cooperate with law enforcement in terrorist investigations.

"This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case,” he told the Financial Times.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Bill Gates made clear, however, that that doesn't mean he supports tech companies simply handing over data and that the court will decide what should happen in this specific case.

Donald Trump is less torn about the issue and has called for a boycott of Apple products. Eye witnesses however say he sent that tweet from his iPhone.

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