Google sides with Apple in protesting government decryption

Google CEO Sundar Pichai interacts with students from schools and colleges at SRCC College on December 17, 2015 in New Delhi, India.

Google is backing Apple Inc. in its fight against the U.S. government, which is trying to get the company to unlock an encrypted iPhone, a move that the industry fears will lead to greater access by any authorities to private data. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive officer, tweeted on Wednesday that asking companies to create a way to hack into people’s devices and data would set a “troubling precedent.” “We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders,” he said. “But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data.” While Pichai’s statements are a strong endorsement of Apple’s argument against greater surveillance, they also suggest that he’s willing to let Apple CEO Tim Cook take the lead in a confrontation seen by many as a watershed moment. Tension has been mounting between technology companies and government authorities over access to private, encrypted communication, and the outcome of the Apple-U.S. spat will have an impact across the industry, and abroad. In a letter to customers dated Tuesday, Cook rejected a court order to help the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in a terrorist attack in California. He called it “chilling” attack on civil liberties and warned that ultimately the government could “demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.” While Pichai echoed Cook’s comments, he didn’t say that Google would refuse to build similar tools for smartphones that work on its Android mobile software. He closed his five-tweet message by saying that he’s “looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue.” Still, Pichar is making clear that Google, part of Alphabet Inc., is “a lot more on the side of Apple than he is on the government’s,” said Jeremiah Grossman, founder of WhiteHat Security Inc. “No one wants to be put into the situation of hacking their own devices.” (Jack Clark/Bloomberg)

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