Black Lives Matter sides with Apple in iPhone encryption battle

© Dado Ruvic
As the fight over the San Bernardino shooter’s encrypted iPhone continues, Black Lives Matter activists and civil rights leaders have begun taking Apple’s side against the US government.

The FBI is looking to force Apple to unlock the phone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December. The Cupertino-based company has resisted a court order mandating it assist the FBI, arguing that doing so would violate privacy rights and create a “back door” for government surveillance.

Civil rights activists and those associated with the Black Lives Matter movement recently started expressing opposition to the FBI’s reasoning, arguing that giving the Bureau access to phone data could allow further spying against civil rights organizations.

In a piece published at, Reverend Jesse Jackson said that forcing Apple to create new software to help the government crack encryption “represents an unprecedented government overreach that threatens the civil liberties and privacy rights of all Americans.”

“The terrorists win when we allow fear to chip away at the US Constitution, our national soul, our freedom, our way of life,” he wrote. “That is why the government, courts, private companies and individual citizens must defend and uphold – however unpopular – our First Amendment rights, our right to privacy and basic freedoms.”

Jackson linked the issue to the FBI’s surveillance of civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as groups like the Black Panther Party.

“If the government prevails against Apple, it is my belief that it will accelerate – and make easier – government efforts to ‘hack’ into the legitimate activities of human rights organizations and activists, as happened time and time again during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s,” Jackson wrote. “The recent revelation of the government’s use of drones to conduct domestic spying shows how vulnerable everyday Americans are to invasive surveillance.”

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said the government was also spying on the Black Lives Matter movement. This behavior included tracking individuals via Google Maps during an April 2015 protest in Washington, DC.

“It raises eyebrows that we, as young activists working in a specific realm, found our role in this fight between Apple and the FBI,” Linda Sarsour of the Justice League NYC, an activist group that focuses on police brutality and criminal justice reform, said to The Hill.

The FBI argues that it is not seeking a back door into mobile devices, but rather that it only wants access to the one iPhone owned by Farook. However, the agency has also sought access to at least 11 other Apple devices since September, according to the Guardian.

Already, some Black Lives Matter members have said the encryption capabilities available on their phones have prevented police from accessing their data without a warrant. Activist DeRay Mckesson, now running for mayor in Baltimore, said that after being arrested at a protest, police were stymied in their attempts to read his phone.

“What we think the federal government is trying to do is, through their crackdown on Apple, they’re trying to suppress a current movement that is flourishing and has had many victories around the country,” Nusrat Choudhury, an attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice program, told The Hill.

Multiple activist organizations also penned a letter to Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, who is handling the Apple-FBI case, saying that the FBI’s “historically questionable surveillance procedures do not bode well for setting a precedent that allows the agency universal access to private smartphone data.”

“We urge you to consider the dire implications for free speech and civil liberties if the FBI is permitted to force Apple to create technology to serve its investigatory purposes,” the letter read.

In its latest court filing, Apple accused the government of trying to “rewrite history” with its attempt to use the All Writs Act of 1789 to force companies to crack encryption. The law gives the government the power to compel third parties to assist the government, but Apple claims that now the government is trying to illegally broaden its power.

“According to the government, short of kidnapping or breaking an express law, the courts can order private parties to do virtually anything the Justice Department and FBI can dream up,” Apple’s lawyers wrote. “The Founders would be appalled.”