In an op-ed piece that appeared Sunday on the Lawfare blog, FBI Director James Comey says the bureau’s attempt to force Apple to help the agency to break into the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, “isn’t about trying to set a precedent.”
“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice,” wrote Comey. “Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI.”
A number of technology firms – including Google, Facebook, and Twitter – have backed Apple’s stance on the issue. On the other side of the coin, U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as a number of families of the San Bernardino victims are siding with the FBI. Apple has a February 26 deadline to file legal arguments against the court order.
Comey continued, saying, “The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”
Comey’s op-ed piece comes in the wake of Apple’s opposition to the bureau’s demand that the company help them break into the iPhone in question. Apple says once any “backdoor” is created, it could be used over and over again, on any device.
Director Comey rejects that argument, saying, “We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”
Comey continues, saying the “tension between security and privacy shouldn’t be resolved by the FBI, or Apple. Instead he says it should be “resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before.”
Comey’s claims could be met with a jaundiced eye, due to his longstanding opposition to Apple’s use of encryption in iPhones. He was quoted in 2014 as saying companies like Apple and Google were, “marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”