When Apple and Google went to war, Amazon dropped its encryption pants

Apple's recent stance on the issue of consumer privacy has earned the admiration and support of world's largest tech giants, but will Apple be able to hold out against the state for too long?

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made it clear that Apple will not create a software that will give backdoor access to the Government to a terrorist's iPhone, contending that the presence of such a software would undermine the privacy and security of a large number of citizens in future.

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"Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession," he said.

Google jumps in to support Apple

Google has made public its intent to support Apple's cause, releasing a statement in its public policy blog. The press release notes that the government should not be allowed to use an 18th century law to force companies to hack into consumers' devices.

"The key question is whether the government should be able to use the All Writs Act to force private companies to actively compromise the safety and security features that we all build into our products. These are the same security features that we all develop to keep people safe from identity thieves, hackers, and other criminals. A bad precedent here could let governments compel companies to hack into your phones, your computers, your software, and your networks," said Richard Salgado, Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security, Google.

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Google's stament comes at a time when Amazon jerked its knees and removed encryption from its Kindle Fire tablets that run Fire OS 5, the latest operating system. Amazon's justification for removing encryptions is that 'it was a feature few customers were actually using.'

Apple has listed out a large number of Amicus Briefs in its support in its website. The list includes 32 law professors, companies like Amazon, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Yahoo, Privacy International and Human Rights Watch, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and eight consumer privacy organizations.

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Armed with such an impressive support, Apple will surely be able to hold out and try to deter the FBI from forcing its hand. However, FBI has also been backed by the families of many victims as well as a number of citizens who believe that no technology should keep evidence of a terrorist's involvement away from government agencies and the law.

Is Apple justified?

In his letter to Apple customers, Tim Cook notes that "building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."

Cook adds that that an encrypted system is as secure as the protection around it. Once an 'encryption-defeat' software is created, it will be easy for hackers to use such technologies to hack into a large number of iPhones and other devices.

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"In the physical world, it [software to defeat encryption] would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable," he added.

Given that the world's largest tech companies including a number of Apple's bitter rivals are now supporting Apple's cause, Apple may just clinch the encryption battle in the end. However, it would be wise for us to wait and watch as the outcome may also impact similar government efforts in UK and the rest of Europe to undermine encryption standards to keep a closer watch on citizens.

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