Google CEO backs Apple on the encryption debate provoked by the FBI’s demand to Apple, to unlock the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone
Google CEO Sundar Pichai at an annual developer’s conference in San Francisco California, May 2015 Getty Images

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has weighed in on the mounting contention between the FBI and Apple over iPhone encryption. Apple's battle with the FBI followed a court order that demanded that the tech giant unlock the San Bernardino killer's iPhone, an edict it decided not to follow, choosing instead to stand firm on its views about the importance of encryption.

Pichai posted a series of tweets, in which he backed Apple's decision, lauding a letter posted by Apple CEO Tim Cook as "important". He said that although Google cooperates with law enforcement agencies and has given them access to data "on valid legal orders" in the past, governments demanding that tech companies "enable hacking of customer devices and data" is a completely different matter and could set a "troubling precedent".

"We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism," Pichai tweeted. "Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users' privacy."

Pichai's sentiments mirror Cook's views, who wrote a message to Apple customers on 16 February, in which he said: "For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers' personal data because we believe it's the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business."

Explaining Apple's decision to challenge the FBI's demand to decrypt the offender's iPhone, Cook said, "Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government. We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications."

Cook's letter sparked off a heated debate in the Twittervese. Twitter users, including whistleblower Edward Snowden, fired off responses, in support of encryption. With Google weighing in on the debate, it is perhaps, only a matter of time before other prominent tech heads like Microsoft's Satya Nadella and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg also chime in.

Given US President Barack Obama's recent efforts to collaborate with leading tech giants to ramp up the White House's cybersecurity measures, it would be interesting to see if the Obama administration would perhaps also weigh in on the encryption debate.