Just hours after the Department of Justice filed a 35-page report insinuating that Apple was cooperating with Chinese government surveillance, the iPhone maker has hit back by accusing the government of waging a smear campaign against the company.
Calling the DOJ brief “offensive” and “desperate,” Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewell said that instead of reading like a legal brief, the report felt like an indictment of Apple. “This should be deeply offensive to anyone who reads it,” Sewell told reporters on a conference call Thursday, the Guardian reports. “The tone of the brief reads like an indictment.”
Sewell, who last week gave evidence in front of Congress alongside FBI Director James Comey, was responding to the report filed by the DOJ earlier on Thursday. In its report, the DOJ claims: “The evidence in the public record raises questions whether it is even resisting foreign governments now.”
This claim related to the fact that Apple stored data in China and supports wireless networks that work only in China, which has led many to suggest some form of collusion with the Chinese government. Apple fully admits it stores data in China and supports local networks, but says this is to comply with local regulations and for usability purposes.
Sewell said the government’s baseless accusations were the same as if Apple claimed the FBI could not be trusted because of some conspiracy theory, such as J. Edgar Hoover ordering the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “See conspiracytheory.com as our supporting evidence,” Sewell said jokingly.
The latest salvos from both sides in this increasingly hostile debate over encryption and privacy have set Washington and Silicon Valley on a collision course, and it appears there will be no compromise. Both sides will face off in court on March 22, one day after Apple holds its latest high-profile media event where it is expected to launch a new iPhone and a new iPad.
Apple has seen almost all major U.S. technology weigh in behind it, filing amicus briefs with the court to show their support. The DOJ, however, says Apple is framing the debate inaccurately and positioning itself as the “guardian of American privacy.”
“Instead of complying, Apple attacked the All Writs Act as archaic, the court’s order as leading to a ‘police state,’ and the FBI’s investigation as shoddy, while extolling itself as the primary guardian of Americans’ privacy,” DOJ lawyers wrote. “Apple’s rhetoric is not only false, but also corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights: the courts, the Fourth Amendment, longstanding precedent and venerable laws, and the democratically elected branches of government.”
Responding to the DOJ report, Sewell said he had never seen anything like it before. “In 30 years of practice, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a legal brief that was more intended to smear the other side. I can only conclude that the Department of Justice is so desperate at this point that they’ve thrown decorum to the winds,” he said.