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File photo of Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook at an event for students to learn to write computer code at the Apple store in the Manhattan borough of New York
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook says the demand from a U.S. judge to help the FBI break into an iPhone recovered from one of the San Bernardino shooters threatened the security of Apple's customers and had "implications far beyond the legal case at hand."  CARLO ALLEGRI - REUTERS

Why Letters Are Pouring Into the Apple Courtroom Today

Mar 03, 2016

Dozens of tech companies and digital rights groups are writing letters to the judge who will decide the privacy case pitting Apple against the FBI.

While the general public still seems split about whether Apple should help take away the company's "vicious guard dog" and help the FBI access data in one of the San Bernardino shooter's phones, the tech world is largely falling in line behind Apple.

About 40 companies, including Facebook (fb), Google (googl), Microsoft (msft) and Yahoo (yhoo), are all expected to submit friend of the court briefs before end of the day Thursday, The New York Times reports.

Civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and digital rights groups like Access Now and The App Association have already filed their own letters that the judge may consider when deciding the case. They're calling the Apple verdict a question of human rights.

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The ACLU wrote in its brief: "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."

Access Now argued that if the government can compel Apple to write new software to unlock the phone, that same new software could be pushed to other phones, weakening security and privacy. "We are seeing that even the most experienced journalists and democracy activists may be unintentionally leaking sensitive information simply by using mobile phones and consumer applications that are continuously collecting data and prone to attacks. It ought to be our goal to build our security up instead of deliberately weakening technology," the digital security group wrote in a statement.

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While FBI director James Comey had previously argued that the case is only about helping access data in this specific iPhone, he changed course slightly this week, telling the court the case could be "potentially precedential" later when the FBI might want similar access to technology by Apple or other companies. The judge in the Apple case said all letters to the court must be filed by the end of the day Thursday.

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