FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2015, file photo, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at an event demonstrating the new features of Windows 10 at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington state on his way to the other Washington (Washington, D.C.), he’ll be visiting the American state that does more business with his country than any other. Washington companies sold China more than $20 billion in products last year, from airplanes to wheat and apples. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Photograph by Elaine Thompson — AP

Microsoft Redoubles Support For Apple In Fight Against FBI

Mar 01, 2016

Microsoft on Tuesday continued to support Apple in its ongoing legal battle with the Justice Department over helping to unlock a disputed iPhone used by a shooter during the San Bernardino attacks.

At the annual RSA Conference on cyber security, Microsoft chief legal counsel Brad Smith reiterated the need for businesses to work together and speak up against the government's call for easier access to encrypted data.

Apple alleges that a court order requiring it to build software that would more easily allow law enforcement to obtain data from a locked iPhone would undermine its efforts to encrypt customer data. Microsoft (msft), along with Google (goog) and other technology companies, has sided with Apple (aapl) in the case.

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“When it comes to security there is no technology that is more important than encryption,” said Smith. “We need to make sure encryption technology remains strong.”

However, Smith also noted that technology companies also occasionally comply with government requests to aid in terrorist investigations. In the days after the Paris terrorists attacks last fall, he said Microsoft received 14 court orders seeking information about the attack.

Smith said that Microsoft determined they were lawful requests and then responded to all of them in an average "of under 30 minutes.”

“We do play our role in the industry,” Smith said to emphasize his company's cooperation with law enforcement.

The battle between the public and private sector over cyber security has united a handful of rivals including Microsoft and Apple.

Smith highlighted Apple’s tough cyber security measures at several points during his talk and even referenced Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs as an example of someone who “aimed to be at the intersection of engineering and the liberal arts.” Smith said that smartphones and other computing devices “contain the privacies of life.”

If Apple loses its case to the government and is forced to build technology that circumvents its security features, the general public might lose trust in technology companies that their data will be safeguarded, Smith explained. “People will not use tech they do not trust, hence trust is the foundation for our entire industry, and it needs to remain that way,” he argued.

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As for Microsoft’s burgeoning cloud computing business that other companies use to store information, Smith said he believes that government investigators should not come after Microsoft for help accessing the information. Instead, he said that law enforcement should go to those companies directly.

“We believe emphatically that when a government wants to investigate a legitimate business, it should serve the warrant on the business and not on the cloud provider instead.”

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