Sure enough Apple has garnered some political and public support in its battle with the FBI over refusing to unlock its phones in the US, but it may face tough penalties in France if it refuses a similar request. An amendment has been tabled in the French Parliament to alter cyber security laws so that tech companies can be fined up to €1m (£771m, $1.1m) for each incident where they refuse to unlock devices manufactured by them.
Yann Galut, a member of France's Socialist Party who tabled the bill in an interview to Le Parisan said, "We are faced with a legal vacuum when it comes to data encryption, and it's blocking judicial investigations. Only money can force these extremely powerful companies like Apple and Google to comply."
Galut, however, said that courts would instruct Apple and other device manufacturers to supply the encryption key for a single specific device in a criminal investigation and would not have "a general key" that is currently what people are debating in the Apple vs FBI case as the "golden key", to access data on all phones. According to Apple's latest statements made at the Congressional hearing, there is no device-specific encryption formula for each phone and even if there were, it would potentially affect all iPhone users, which is what Apple is fighting against.
The amendment, at present is at a nascent stage, and it is unclear as to when it would be implemented as in January this year, the French government had rejected a proposal that sought to require tech companies to create a back door to bypass encryption. However, the San Bernardino case is a testament as to how crucial evidence can be withheld during criminal investigations due to technological issues.
With Galut tabling the bill, lawmakers once again debated the need to expedite criminal investigations, including how to compel US technology giants to assist police access encrypted data on smartphones in investigations. Eric Ciotti, a French Republican – to make the case strong for security agencies – quoted NSA director Admiral Michael Rogers who last month said that the Paris attacks "would not have happened" were it not for encrypted communications. Around 130 lives were lost in the terror attacks in November 2015.
Meanwhile, FBI director James Comey, who is in the line of fire from Apple, at a Congressional hearing said that more countries like China and Russia may seek similar backdoor requests from US tech companies. UK had also proposed a law a few months ago that would give intelligence agencies more power when it comes to data collection.