Law and Regulations

Tech CEOs in support of Apple vs FBI

Jessica Hartogs, special to CNBC and Aza Wee Sile, news assistant
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Two tech CEOs have come out in support of Apple CEO Tim Cook's against a court order to unlock a San Bernardino attacker's iPhone.

In an open letter Wednesday, Cook wrote, "the government's demands are chilling. … We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country."

A California federal judge ordered Apple on Tuesday to assist in the San Bernardino investigation by designing a new operating system to disable the feature that erases all contents after 10 failed passcode attempts. This would allow the FBI to use as many permutations of passwords to unlock the iPhone 5C used by Syed Rizwan Farook.

While public opinion may be divided on whether Apple should unlock the terrorist's iPhone, Google boss Sundar Pichai as well as Jan Koum, CEO of messaging service Whatsapp, are among those who have backed Apple's decision.

Pichai, among the highest paid CEOs of America, defended Cook in a series of tweets, including one saying, "Could be a troubling precedent."


Tim Cook, Apple CEO
Chris Hondros | Getty Images

Koum, a Facebook board member, wrote on the social media site, "I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple's efforts to protect user data. … We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake."

And Edward Snowden, who first criticized Pichai for not immediately speaking out, proceeded to retweet the Google CEO.

Many tech experts also supported Apple's decision, with one telling CNBC that Cook's decision to stand by customers' privacy is correct.

"His priority is to provide privacy to [Apple] customers," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, an advisory firm that provides market research services for the technology industry.

"If [Cook] gave the FBI the 'back door' encryption code, it would set a precedent," Bajarin told CNBC.

"It is true that [the government] is positioning this as an isolated case, but because of the way our justice system works, it becomes a precedent, and once a precedent is set, [the government] or other cases can come back and use this to try and get the same action in the future" he said.

Bajarin adds that if Apple sets the precedent for U.S. government to access the iPhone contents via "brute force," Russia and China could follow suit and try to use similar rulings to access information.

In a country that has a longstanding tradition of granting its citizens civil liberties, the "American public opinion is split," said Edward Reilly, global chief executive officer of strategic communications at FTI Consulting.

"When people think there is a legitimate issue of national security, [then the] government can have enhanced authority, but they're very uncomfortable with that," said Reilly.

With the passage of the Patriot Act post-Sept. 11, how the law enforcement and intelligence community used their extended authorities to access private information has been hotly debated.

The issue of privacy versus national security is not a new topic, but Cook's refusal to comply with the court order is.

"I think this is an important enough issue that the Supreme Court should decide," said John Mauldin, chairman of Mauldin Economics.

Modern society also has "to decide how much privacy we want, how we want to legislate it, and how we want to control it," Mauldin said in a CNBC interview.

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Correction: An earlier version misspelled Edward Reilly's last name.

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