‘Emergency protest’ for security hits SF Apple Store, like, right now

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Encryption protest San Francisco
Party's at the Apple Store tonight, apparently.
Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac (via Apple and protestsign.org)

The battle for phone encryption is hitting the streets, as iPhone owners are going to gather at the Apple Store in San Francisco tonight in a show of solidarity for the company’s refusal to budge on security.

The bulk of protests will occur next Tuesday, February 23, exactly one week after a court ordered the device maker to allow the FBI access to an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. But digital-rights group Fight for the Future is stepping up the timetable and hosting its first rally in less than an hour, at 5:00 p.m. PT.

“Governments have been frothing at the mouth hoping for an opportunity to pressure companies like Apple into building backdoors into their products to enable more sweeping surveillance,” Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer said in a press release. “It’s shameful that they’re exploiting the tragedy in San Bernardino to push that agenda.”

As of this writing, only 14 people have RSVP’d on the protest’s Facebook page, with 36 people “interested” and 300 more invited. But this is pretty short notice, admittedly.

The event site recommends people show up for this and future rallies 30 minutes early and use website ProtestSign.org to convert their iPhones and iPads into cheap, waste-free placards for the cause.

The court mandated yesterday that Apple cooperate with the federal investigation by helping law enforcement access data on Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. Officers had thus far failed to get past the phone’s passcode lock, and the device might erase all of its own data after 10 missed attempts.

The judge is asking Apple to create new firmware that can bypass the data-erasure feature so that authorities can brute-force the password, but the company isn’t having it. CEO Tim Cook issued a letter declaring Apple’s intention to fight the court order, saying, in part, “The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

We aren’t sure why Fight for the Future’s rallies are occurring at Apple Stores and not at, say, courthouses or government offices. Supportive of the company is they might be, they risk disrupting store operation and business with all of that love. Maybe tonight’s emergency rally is like a dry run to see if they need to change anything for next week. Regardless, the employees of the San Francisco Apple Store have our sympathies.

We attempted to contact the store to see if it knew what was headed its way, but Apple declined to comment.