From Google to Facebook, the industry’s biggest names rallied around Apple’s chief executive officer after he vowed to resist a court order demanding it help unlock the iPhone of a shooter in a terrorist attack.
Mr Cook described the request as an “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers” and called for a public debate.
The escalation with the FBI, which has been pushing for access to mobile devices since Apple tightened its encryption in late 2014, galvanised the company’s US peers and forced them to choose between helping the US government fight crime and protecting their customers’ privacy.
The decision in the Apple case could apply to the broader technology industry and it may spur requests from China and other nations that want similar abilities to access users’ encrypted content.
Government Surveillance, a group representing companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, issued a statement on Wednesday reiterating that, while it’s “extremely important” to deter crime and terrorism, no company should be required to build back doors to their own technology.
“This particular case is a tricky one for anybody to oppose a government’s request on because it deals with not just a suspected terrorist, but somebody who is very clearly guilty of a heinous act,” said Jan Dawson, an independent technology industry analyst.
“It’s a really tough case for anyone to jump in on Apple’s side.”
Mr Cook took his stand after the FBI won a court order to make Apple help investigators unlock an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in a deadly December attack in San Bernardino, California.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai came to Mr Cook’s defence, saying the government’s request could spur “a troubling precedent” in comments echoed by WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum.
Billionaire Mark Cuban said Mr Cook deserved a “standing ovation” for his stand.
Google provides law enforcement access to data “based on valid legal orders, but that’s different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data,”
Mr Pichai wrote in a series of tweets.
“Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue,” he said.
Ultimately, the matter needs to be decided by Congress, said Robert Cattanach, a lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney who practices in areas of regulatory litigation including cyber security.
“This is a classic legislative function, the courts aren’t equipped to weigh the policies in a democratic society — what’s more important, protection against terrorists or protections against your privacy?” he said.