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Coalition of Big Tech Companies Backs Apple in FBI Back Door Fight (Ever So Slightly)

Tech companies shouldn't be forced to build back doors, says coalition.


Reform Government Surveillance, an advocacy group supported by some of the largest tech companies — including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter — defended Apple in its principled standoff with a federal court ruling demanding access to encrypted data.

A very gentle defense, that is. The group said in a statement that tech companies should “not be required to build” back doors to user information, but then notes that companies are obliged to balance user privacy with the need to cooperate with law enforcement. The statement does not mention Apple nor its CEO Tim Cook.

The careful wording is consistent with the statement released Wednesday afternoon from Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the only high-profile tech exec to issue public remarks. And the conservative comments speak to the stickiness of the situation: Companies want to be seen as defenders of user privacy, but don’t necessarily want to be dragged into a lengthy fight.

Here’s the full statement from the RGS, posted on the group’s Tumblr page (Yahoo is a member, too):

Reform Government Surveillance companies believe it is extremely important to deter terrorists and criminals and to help law enforcement by processing legal orders for information in order to keep us all safe. But technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers’ information.

The listed members of RGS also include Apple, AOL, Evernote, Dropbox and LinkedIn. A statement on the group’s website reads: “The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.”

Update: Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer and top policy exec, took to Twitter to endorse the RGS statement, effectively giving the software company’s only position on the issue so far. CEO Satya Nadella re-tweeted Smith.

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