Families of San Bernardino attack victims ask judge to back FBI against Apple – Los Angeles Times

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Relatives of several victims of the San Bernardino terror attack joined the FBI‘s effort Thursday to force Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the assailants, claiming the device could hold critical information that might help determine whether anyone else was involved in the shootings that left 14 dead at the Inland Regional Center.

The 41-page amicus brief includes a letter from Mark Sandfeur, whose son was slain in the conference room where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire on Dec. 2, 2015.

“Recovery of information from the iPhone in question may not lead to anything new. But, what if there is evidence pointing to a third shooter? What if it leads to an unknown terrorist cell?” Sanfeur wrote in a letter to Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook that was included in the brief. “What if others are attacked, and you and I did nothing to prevent it?”

The brief, filed by attorney Stephen Larson, came as several tech companies and the American Civil Liberties Union filed their own court papers siding with Apple, arguing that the attempt to unlock Farook’s phone is about more than one device and would threaten the integrity of the encrypted data of billions of customers around the globe.

The ACLU filed a 27-page brief in support of Apple, and similar motions were expected from Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Evernote, Snapchat and WhatsApp.

“This case is not about a single phone — it’s about the government’s authority to turn the tech companies against their users,” Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement. “The security and privacy of millions of Americans hangs on the trust we place in the companies that make our devices.”

In its brief, the ACLU argued that the government was overstepping its authority by asking Apple to create software that would aid in a law enforcement investigation. The All Writs Act, the law the government cited in its motion to compel Apple’s help in unlocking the phone, does not grant the government that power, according to the ACLU’s brief. 

Apple won a crucial round in the fight over the phone earlier this week when a judge presiding over a New York case that mirrors the issues in the San Bernardino case ruled against federal prosecutors who were seeking Apple’s help in unlocking a phone belonging to a drug dealer. In that ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein said the All Writs Act did not grant the power that the government sought.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in Riverside is not bound to follow Orenstein’s ruling when she makes a decision on Farook’s iPhone. But Orenstein’s ruling rejected many of the arguments the government made in its initial filing asking to compel Apple’s help in the San Bernardino investigation.

The ACLU brief mirrored many of the arguments Apple made when it filed a motion last week calling for Pym to vacate her order compelling Apple’s aid. The ACLU contends the FBI is seeking a power that Congress has repeatedly failed to grant through legislation, and that the court order violates Apple’s 5th Amendment rights.

The court battle over Farook’s phone highlights a long-held divide between Silicon Valley and the law enforcement community. While the tech industry believes encryption of data is the only way to safely protect the privacy rights of billions of customers who use their smartphones as pocket computers, police have said encryption creates a safe space for a wide range of criminals to communicate without fear of detection.

Full Coverage: San Bernardino terror attack>>

Apple and civil liberties advocates have said the complaints from local law enforcement only underscore the idea that the San Bernardino case would have far-reaching implications, arguing that police essentially want to use the case to force Apple to create a “backdoor” to the iPhone.

Support for the government’s position in the case could also come from San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos, who has said he was considering filing an amicus brief. A spokesman for Ramos said early Thursday afternoon that he could not confirm that the agency had filed a brief.

Staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in Southern California.


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Families of San Bernardino attack victims ask judge to back FBI against Apple – Los Angeles Times