Los Angeles Times
By Paresh Dave
March 10, 2016
Apple’stop-ranking Latino executive took to Univision on Wednesday night to warn how the FBI’s demand for weaker security on iPhones could give investigators new surveillance powers, including in immigration cases.
The interview and other recent steps by the world’s most valuable company suggest Apple is attempting to frame the contentious battle over encryption with key demographic groups, including older Americans and lawmakers, political experts said.
Apple is laying the foundation for what could be a years-long controversy in the courts and legislative halls over whether its security tools can act as a permanent blockade to investigations. Polls show the issue divides the country. And many people are unsure of where they stand after a month of dueling statements from the FBI and Apple.
But broad public support may not be essential for the Cupertino tech giant, assuming it can to win over specific groups of voters whose support can sway elections, political strategists said. For example, the prospect of fervent Latino support for Apple’s position could be enough to force Democratic politicians who rely on the Latino vote to rethink backing the FBI.
That might explain why Eddy Cue, Apple senior vice president of Internet software and services, told Univision that Latinos should be very concerned about any law that gives the government broad access to personal information.
“Because where does this stop?” Cue said in Spanish. “In a divorce case? In an immigration case? In a tax case with the IRS? Someday, someone will be able to turn on a phone’s microphone. This should not happen in this country.”
Univision’s Spanish-speaking audience wasn’t targeted for any particular reason, according to a person familiar with Apple’s thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But experts had little doubt that Cue’s mention of immigration represented a deliberate attempt to extend some Latinos' fears about the government to the FBI’s position on encryption. His comment came in response to a question about whether Latinos should be “especially concerned,” given that many of them are immigrants.
Bringing up immigration was a “marvelous stroke,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist who is an expert in Latino politics. “Once there’s a sentiment that the federal government could crack into phones to see who’s in the country legally or illegally, that’s a line in the sand.”
Apple executives have said they want Congress to decide whether tech companies may develop products and services that authorities can’t unlock without a user’s consent. The company prefers stronger security, but law enforcement agencies fear being shut out as technology now holds clues in nearly every case.
The FBI has tried to limit the issue to one case: the San Bernardino terrorism investigation. Apple has refused to obey a court order asking its engineers to develop software that would remove security barriers the FBI says prevent the agency from unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the attackers.
Cue told Univision the problem is that the demands from the FBI will only escalate.
“When they can get us to create a new system to do new things, where will it stop?” Cue said in Spanish, warning someday authorities may ask Apple to tap someone’s iPhone camera.
Apple’s argument, first laid out a month ago in an open letter signed by Chief Executive Tim Cook, hasn’t changed.
But the company appears to be moving its public relations campaign to key forums to further its message. Cook, in his first network TV appearance since a wide-ranging discussion on "60 Minutes" in December, gave an exclusive interview to ABC, whose broad, older viewership is more likely to vote than Apple’s enthusiastic young fans, experts said. Then last weekend, Apple Senior Vice President Craig Federighi wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, likely aimed at the political establishment. He called hampering the growth of security measures “a serious mistake” because it would make everyone’s devices vulnerable.
“They are not taking any prisoners in this,” San Jose State political science professor Larry Gerston said. “Apple feels this is a threat to their business, whether a threat to their customers, their values or both. They don’t want to wait for the threat to come to them, they want to bat it down before it gets to them.”
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