UN official says Apple case evokes 'Pandora's Box'

Top UN human rights official warns that US officials risk opening 'Pandora's Box' in case against Apple that could violate rights of millions, ease way for authoritarian rulers and criminal hackers

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid bin Ra'ad Al Hussein.

The top UN human rights official warned on Friday that US officials risked opening a "Pandora's Box" in the case against Apple Inc that could infringe the rights of millions worldwide and ease the way for authoritarian rulers and criminal hackers.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation obtained a court order last month requiring the company to write new software to disable passcode protection and allow access to an iPhone used by one of the shooters in December killings in San Bernardino, California.

Apple has argued that the only way to unlock the phone is to introduce a weakened operating system, which could potentially leak out and be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement, "A successful case against Apple in the US will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients' privacy anywhere in the world."

A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled on Monday that the US government does not have the right to force Apple to unlock an iPhone to facilitate the FBI’s work on a drug investigation.

Following the ruling, The Justice Department said they were "disappointed" by the decision and announced that it is planning to ask a higher judge within the same federal district to review the matter in the coming days, according to a department representative.

On Thursday, three tech associations that represent Apple's main business rivals - including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo - announced a joint brief supporting Apple's efforts to challenge the order.

"If the government arguments prevail, the Internet ecosystem will be weakened, leaving Internet users more vulnerable to hackers and other bad actors," said a statement from the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which announced a joint amicus brief with the Internet Association and the i2 Coalition of Internet infrastructure firms.

A number of other companies and associations were expected to file briefs in the case, which has divided the American public and set off a highly charged debate about the limits of law enforcement in accessing digital devices.

"There is broad and deep concern throughout many types of companies throughout the tech industry that there is a potentially dangerous precedent in this case," said Ed Black, president and chief executive of CCIA.

"While the tech industry understands the government's desire for information, and respects its mission to keep us safe, we hope the court appropriately weighs the wider issues of security and trust that are also at stake in this case."

TRTWorld, Reuters