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The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a "friend of the court" brief in California on Wednesday supporting Apple in its stand against the FBI, saying a ruling in favor of the government would have "catastrophic consequences."
"If the government prevails, then this case will be the first of many requiring companies to degrade the security and to undermine the trust in their products so essential to privacy in the digital age," the ACLU argues in the brief.
The prominent rights group is one of many companies, organizations and individuals expected to submit amicus briefs in the case before the end of the week. Apple has asked the judge in the case to vacate an order that would force the company to help federal investigators crack a iPhone 5C used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.
The FBI has asked the court to have Apple make a tool that would allow agents to get around the phone's auto-erase and other passcode protection features, allowing investigators to make a "brute force" attack on the device.
"This case concerns an unprecedented law-enforcement effort to conscript an American technology company into creating software designed to weaken the security of its own devices—an effort that, if successful, would set precedent implicating the security and privacy of hundreds of millions of Americans," the ACLU goes on to argue. "While the government can in some circumstances require private parties to support law-enforcement investigations ... the government does not hold the general power to enlist private third parties as its investigative agents to seek out information they do not possess or control."
"In other words, law enforcement may not commandeer innocent third parties into becoming its undercover agents, its spies, or its hackers."
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FBI Director James Comey and Apple's top lawyer Bruce Sewell both testified before a congressional committee on Tuesday amid the escalating legal and political feud. Lawmakers pressed Comey repeatedly on whether or not the case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California was an attempt by the feds to set a precedent that could be used to compel tech companies' assistance in future investigations.
Comey said that a decision favorable to the government in California would likely be cited in other investigations as a precedent where the feds or other law enforcement agencies want to get into Apple devices.
"Simply put, what the government seeks here is an authority that would undermine American and global trust in software security updates, with catastrophic consequences for digital security and privacy," the ACLU writes in its brief.