Verizon sides with Apple against 'backdoor' into phones for law enforcement

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) CEO Lowell McAdam issued a statement largely in support of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) stance against a technological backdoor into its devices for law enforcement -- a statement that is noteworthy considering the nation's largest wireless carrier had so far remained silent in Apple's ongoing battle against an FBI request for access into an iPhone linked to December's San Bernardino shootings.

"Verizon is committed to protecting customer privacy and one of the tools for protecting that privacy is encryption," McAdam said in the statement first reported by Reuters. "We support the availability of strong encryption with no back doors. The case with Apple presents unique issues that should be addressed by Congress, not on an ad hoc basis."

Verizon's statement coincided with an interview on the topic that Apple CEO Tim Cook granted to ABC World News this week. In that interview, Cook reiterated his company's position against the FBI, arguing that a backdoor into the company's iPhones would set a dangerous precedent and that the issue should be decided by Congress, not courts.

"If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write," Cook said during the interview, according to a Verge transcript. "Maybe it's an operating system for surveillance. Maybe it's the ability for law enforcement to turn on the camera. I mean, I don't know where this stops. But I do know this is not what should be happening in this country. This is not what should be happening in America. If there should be a law that compels us to do it, it should be passed out in the open, and the people of America should get a voice in that. The right place for that debate to occur is in Congress."

Meantime, according to a new New York Times article citing unnamed sources, Apple engineers are reportedly now working on "new security measures" that would make it "impossible" for the government to break into a locked iPhone.

Verizon joins Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), Twitter and other major tech companies in voicing support for Apple's position. However, other major wireless carriers have largely remained on the sidelines of the topic. Specifically, Sprint (NYSE: S) has declined to comment. When questioned about T-Mobile's (NYSE:TMUS) stance, a T-Mobile representative pointed to a video clip of CEO John Legere telling CNBC that Cook is in a "really, really difficult situation. The questions right now associated with national security and the horrific acts where 14 people were killed, I really don't know how to balance it," he said. And an AT&T (NYSE: T) spokesman noted a "need for legal clarity," saying legislators must address issues that arise when the development of technology outpaces laws meant to address "much less complex situations."

The battle over encryption and privacy stems from an FBI request to Apple for the company to unlock on iPhone linked to the shootings in San Bernardino in December. Last week, a federal judge magistrate issued an order to Apple to write and install the unlocking code sought by the FBI. Apple has promised to challenge that order; the company has until Friday to file its official opposition.

For more:
- see this NYT article
- see this Reuters article
- see this Verge article

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