Verizon Backs Apple In Encryption Debate With FBI

Telecommunications giant Verizon broke its silence on the controversy between Apple and the FBI, with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam saying Friday that he supports Apple in the battle over encryption.

Many technology company CEOs have voiced their opinions this week regarding Apple's refusal to create a brand-new operating system that would allow the FBI to unlock an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. Many Silicon Valley executives are standing behind Apple CEO Tim Cook, saying that the existence of a so-called master key to any iPhone could carry huge security implications for all Apple users.

In a statement, McAdam said, "Verizon is committed to protecting customer privacy and one of the tools for protecting that privacy is encryption. We support the availability of strong encryption with no backdoors."

[Related: Telecoms Tight-Lipped On Apple's Encryption Battle With FBI]

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"I'm definitely really impressed that Verizon is maybe seeing what a slippery slope this is. In backing Apple, maybe [Verizon] is thinking that if Apple caves, who knows what's next?" said Natasha Royer Coons, managing director of San Diego-based TeraNova Consulting Group, a telecom expense and managed services provider and Verizon partner.

Similar to the response Monday from Ralph de la Vega, AT&T president and CEO of its Mobile and Business Solutions unit, Verizon's McAdam said that it should be Congress to decide where the line should be drawn between privacy and national security.

"The case with Apple presents unique issues that should be addressed by Congress, not on an ad-hoc basis," McAdam said in the statement.

Early in the debate, carriers seemed to be the only companies not coming forward with an opinion on the encryption battle. Verizon’s support of Apple is significant as the carrier -- along with some competing telecom providers -- have cooperated with the government on similar privacy matters.

Telecom provider Sprint has kept silent on the subject, and T-Mobile CEO John Legere said he "wouldn't know how to advise" Apple's Cook.

Whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that several carriers, including Verizon, had handed over phone call metadata and emails to the National Security Agency. In the second half of 2015, Verizon, Basking Ridge, N.J., said in its biannual Transparency Report that it had received 65,663 subpoenas for customer data, including 567 wiretap orders, in 2013.

Verizon may be realizing there could be a domino effect that could impact carriers down the road, said TeraNova’s Coons. If Apple caves to FBI requests, it could put carriers in the hot seat next, she said.

"Right now [Verizon] still isn't the one out there -- Apple is on the block … so Verizon might be wondering how far this could go, especially if the underlying carrier or the users in question are on their network. Who knows what this could lead to?" Coons said.

Verizon's stance also could help instill faith in Verizon that might have been lost in recent years when the carrier was revealed to have cooperated with the NSA, she said.

As a partner, Coons said she appreciates Verizon standing in Apple's corner.

"It makes me feel good about Verizon, she said. "It seems like they are on the side of the rights of citizens and privacy."

Apple filed a motion on Thursday to overturn a court order that the company must write new software that will sidestep certain security features existing today on the iPhone operating system.