A man walks outside the Apple store on the Fifth Avenue in New York on February 17, 2016. Apple's challenge of a court order to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers opens up a new front in the long-running battle between technology companies and the government over encryption. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Apple chief Tim Cook has picked a fight with the United States government and Silicon Valley is joining his side.

Apple Inc.’s chief executive officer took his stand after the Federal Bureau of Investigation won a court order to make Apple help investigators unlock an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in a deadly December 2 attack in San Bernardino, California.

From Google Inc. to Facebook Inc., the industry’s biggest names rallied around Cook after he vowed to resist the court order. Cook described the request as an “unprecedented step that threatens the security of our customers” and called for a public debate.

The escalation with the FBI, which has been pushing for access to mobile devices since Apple tightened its encryption in late 2014, galvanised the firm’s US peers and forced them to choose between helping the government fight crime and protecting their customers’ privacy. The decision in the Apple case could apply to the broader tech industry and it may spur requests from China and other nations that want similar abilities to access users’ encrypted content.

Reform Government Surveillance, a group representing firms including Google, Facebook, Microsoft Corp. and Twitter Inc., have issued a statement reiterating that, while it’s “extremely important” to deter crime and terrorism, no company should be required to build backdoors to their own technology.

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has also backed Apple, tweeting that the company’s stance was defending the rights of its customers.

‘‘We’re here to say to Apple, “We’re going to back you all the way,” ‘ said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) chief Cindy Cohn outside a San Francisco store. When about two dozen privacy advocates stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the downtown San Francisco Apple store on Wednesday, it may have been the first time a demonstration was held in support of the tech company.

“Silicon Valley stands with Apple,” Bret Taylor, co-founder of Quip and former chief technology officer of Facebook and co-creator of Google Maps, posted on Twitter. Steven Sinofsky, an ex-executive at Microsoft, called for “broad support from full stack of technology companies.”