WASHINGTON, March 1, 2016 – Tech giant Apple will face off against the FBI over refusing to decrypt a terrorist’s encrypted iPhone. FBI Director James Comey and Apple’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell is testifying in front of a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Comey has said the FBI’s request would only impact the cell-phone belonging to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. Apple continued towarn the committee that writing new code will create a backdoor into encrypted iPhones belonging to millions of their customers, making the phones vulnerable to hackers, government surveillance and cyber criminals.
Apple previously filed a motion to vacate the court order, maintaining their stance that Apple CEO Tim Cook said he would be willing to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Comey defended his demands by saying that the phone could have “locator services” that would help the FBI fill in a gap of its knowledge of the route that Syed Farook and Malik Tashfeen traveled as they fled police after their shooting rampage last December, where they killed 14 and wounded 22 in California.
“We’ve looked at every gas station camera, every intersection camera, we have the whole route, but we’re missing 19 minutes before they were finally killed by law enforcement,” Comey said. “The answer to that might be on the device.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance will also testify in support of the FBI, arguing that default device encryption “severely harms” criminal prosecutions at the state level, including in cases in his district involving at least 175 iPhones. Vance’s office has drafted legislation it wants Congress to enact that would go beyond the single court case and require companies like Apple to ensure that their devices could be accessed in unencrypted form.
“My colleagues from jurisdictions around the country have been running into the same road blocks in their efforts to investigate and prosecute serious crimes,” Vance said in prepared remarks
The U.S. Justice Department has sought court orders to force Apple to extract data from 15 devices in the past four months, beginning with a case in Brooklyn in which Apple declined to cooperate with investigators in October. Sewell defended the decision in a written statement posted on the committee’s website before the hearing.
“Hundreds of millions of law-abiding people trust Apple’s products with the most intimate details of their daily lives — photos, private conversations, health data, financial accounts, and information about the user’s location as well as the location of their friends and families,” Sewell said in written testimony posted on the committee’s website before the hearing. “There’s probably more information stored on that iPhone than a thief could steal by breaking into your house. The only way we know to protect that data is through strong encryption.”
A cybersecurity expert said the best thing Congress can do is give the FBI the resources it needs to create an investigative center with agents who have “a deep technical understanding of modern telecommunications technologies.” “The FBI must learn to investigate smarter,” said Susan Landau, professor of cybersecurity policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. “Congress can provide it with the resources and guidance to help it do so. Bring FBI investigative capabilities into the 21st century. That’s what is needed here — not undermining the best security that any consumer device has to date.”