By David McAtee, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Today, AT&T filed a “friend of the court” brief with the magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, urging the court to vacate its order requiring Apple to take some fairly extraordinary steps to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino shootings.
This case involves two interests that all Americans share: keeping our citizens safe and protecting our personal privacy. As a company committed to both, the critical issue to AT&T is whether those interests will be balanced on an ad hoc basis by judges presiding over individual cases or by Congress providing a clear, uniform legal framework for all participants in the new digital economy. We felt it important to add our voice to this conversation because we believe that, as a matter of law and policy, Congress is the right body to decide this balance.
Technology has changed dramatically since Congress last addressed these issues in 1994. Then, Congress focused on what telecommunications carriers like AT&T may be required to do to assist law enforcement and national security officials. Now, the government seeks data stored by many other types of companies, from device manufacturers to social media, search, and applications companies, among others. But our laws have not kept pace with technology.
Only Congress can address these issues in a sufficiently comprehensive, uniform, and fair manner. All of us—the government, the courts, consumers and companies—need clear and uniform rules that can be produced only through a broadly-informed, transparent and accountable legislative process. In the meantime, we should not consider the All Writs Act, which merely authorizes the judiciary to enforce existing law, as a substitute for that process.
Like all Americans, we were deeply saddened by the tragic events of San Bernardino. Without question, the government should use every lawful means to investigate those crimes, and that includes compelling Apple’s cooperation to the full extent permitted by law. In this case, however, the government seeks more than what can be supported under the law as it is written today. The solution is for Congress to pass new legislation that provides real clarity for citizens and companies alike.