A group of protesters gather outside an Apple store to show their support for the company

Apple v FBI may speed up government-proof safeguards

The battle between the FBI and Apple over encryption will likely convince tech companies to bolster their efforts to engineer safeguards against government intrusion, according to tech industry executives.

Super-secure phones and mobile applications are already forming part of an emerging industry and the latest case may serve to increase its prominence.

An Apple executive has said the company will strengthen its encryption if it wins the court battle with the federal government.

A Los Angeles Court recently ruled that Apple has to help FBI investigators gain access an iPhone 5C owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators of the attack on 80 employees at a training event for the Department of Public Health in San Bernardino, California in December.

The FBI wants Apple to make a new version of the iPhone operating system in order to circumvent its security features in order to gain access to the data within.

If Apple loses the court case, the legal precedent could give the US government broad authority to order companies to assist in breaking into encrypted products.

However, even a government victory could have unintended consequences for law enforcement, potentially prompting a wave of investment by US tech companies in security systems that even their own engineers can't access, said Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard University's Berkman Centre for Internet and Society.

"A success for the government in this case may further spur Apple and others to develop devices that the makers aren't privileged to crack," he said.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and others in Silicon Valley have openly supported Apple in the case, but Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes that technology companies should be forced to co-operate with law enforcement in terrorism investigations.

The court case’s prosecutors have taken the unusual step of enlisting victims of the San Bernardino attack to support them.

Family members of at least two victims will join a legal brief to be filed next week urging Apple to help the government unlock the phone.

The lawyer representing them, former federal judge Stephen Larson, said he was brought into the case by Eileen Decker, the US Attorney in Los Angeles, who personally asked him if he was interested in representing the victims.

San Bernardino County prosecutors subsequently contacted at least one victim's husband about joining in the case.

"Apple has close to unlimited resources to litigate this thing," Larson said. "It is hardly a surprise the US Attorney wants to make sure victims have someone looking after them.

"They were targeted by terrorists, and they need to know why, how this could happen.”

Yet a Democratic US congressman has appealed to the FBI to withdraw its legal case against Apple.

US Representative Ted Lieu argued instead that Congress should ultimately decide whether American technology companies must grant authorities access to their products.

In a letter to the Bureau, Lieu said that allowing a federal magistrate to order Apple to write new code granting investigators access to the phone relies on a ‘strained interpretation’ of a centuries-old law and could set a dangerous precedent that would weaken encryption more broadly.

The FBI declined to comment on the letter, but referred back to a Sunday blog post by its director James Comey who said the case was not about precedent, but about ‘victims and justice’.

"This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation," Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said in an email to Apple employees.

"At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties."

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