Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith confirmed that Microsoft supports Apple in their current legal case with the FBI and will file a legal brief in support next week. Smith was responding to a question from Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.
Smith made the point that the primary statutory language the government is relying on in Apple’s case was passed by Congress in 1911, long before today’s modern technology was even conceived. To illustrate the point, Smith showed the committee a 1912 adding machine that represented the state of the art in computing devices at the time.
Smith emphasized that we need to update laws to reflect the technology of today, and that he agreed with Apple that Congress, as the elected representatives of the people, was the right place to make these kinds of important decisions.
Here’s what Smith said:
BRAD SMITH: We at Microsoft support Apple and will be filing an amicus brief to support Apple’s position in the court case next week.
And I believe that Apple is making an important point that, in fact, connects directly with the kinds of issues that are being considered by this hearing today.
In the Apple case, the Justice Department has asked a magistrate to apply language in the All Writs Act that was passed by Congress and written in 1911.
The leading computing device of that era is right here in front of me. It is an adding machine that went on sale in 1912.
Put simply, we do not believe that courts should seek to resolve issues of 21st-century technology with law that was written in the era of the adding machine. We need 21st-century laws that address 21st-century technology issues. And we need these laws to be written by Congress.
We, therefore, agree wholeheartedly with Apple that the right place to bring this discussion is here, to the House of Representatives and the Senate so the people who are elected by the people can make these decisions.
REP. LOFGREN: Well, thank you very much. Do you have any other props? (Laughter.)
BRAD SMITH: I’m out of props.
REP. LOFGREN: I was surprised to see that.
BRAD SMITH: But, believe me, it is amazing what you can buy on the Internet. (Laughter.)
REP. LOFGREN: I’ve heard that.
REP. ISSA: Would the gentlelady yield? What’s the operating system on that?
REP. LOFGREN: What is the operating system? (Laughter.)
BRAD SMITH: It’s called a hand crank.
REP. LOFGREN: I’d like to follow up because I actually very much believe that the encryption issue should be before Congress. We’ve already – the Judiciary Committee has started that process.
But the Justice Department alleges that this is just one phone. And I was surprised to hear that when we heard the district attorney in New York saying he had 175 phones, and then we found out there were a number of others where we’re seeking to utilize the new operating system that the court has ordered Apple to devise.
Do you think that this issue goes beyond that one phone?
BRAD SMITH: Well, every case, obviously, is always only about one case, but every case, obviously, has implications for lots of other cases.
The real concern here is, actually, the law and the implications for the future. And the only way to get the law right for the future is for Congress to act.
REP. LOFGREN: If I can just close, Mr. Chairman. I think — I started with the TPP, the international standard, and that’s important because encryption keeps us safe. It keeps people from breaking into our data systems and causing problems for us — either hackers or terrorists or enemies of our country. And the idea that my data would have to be open to hackers in China because of a specific case is really what I think this is about.
And I thank you very much, Mr. Smith, for answering.