Apple’s head lawyer Bruce Sewell and FBI Director James Comey testified at yesterday’s U.S. congressional hearing on encryption issues, and both sides took the opportunity to reiterate their previous arguments.
Both sides were obviously prepared to answer questions about the current battle between Apple and the Justice Departments battle over unlocking encrypted phones, such as the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Oddly, though, Sewell offered no recommendations when asked, pointedly, by members of the House Judiciary Committee, how Apple proposes lawmakers strike the proper balance between consumer privacy and security and national security.
“I don’t have a solution,” Sewell said, at one point in testimony Tuesday. “What we need to do is give this an appropriate and fair hearing.”
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who introduced the Patriot Act expanding government surveillance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, fired back.
“You’ve told us what you don’t like. You’ve said you want Congress to debate,” Sensenbrenner said. “You haven’t told us one thing that you do like, so that Apple has a positive solution to what you are complaining about … All you’ve been doing is saying ‘no, no, no, no.’”
FBI Director James Comey defended the government’s use of the over two-hundred years old All Writs Act to force Apple to write new software that would give the FBI a way around the encryption on an iPhone 5c used by shooter Syed Farook. “The Constitution is as old or older than the All Writs Act — and it’s still a pretty good document.”
Comey also talked about Apple and other tech firms using encryption to create “warrant-proof spaces in our lives.” Which, of course, the government sees as an extreme deterrent in collecting evidence in criminal cases.
The FBI Director was forced to admit under oath that if Apple is forced to provide the government a way to create a “back door” to the iPhone in question, it could “potentially” set a precedent for similar cases. However, he claimed the software the court is ordering Apple to create would work only on older generation iPhones, such as the iPhone 5c in question, and not the more current models. Apple’s Sewell dismissed that claims, saying: “The tool we’re being asked to create will work on any iPhone in use today — it’s extensible.”
Comey chaffed at Apple’s objection being presented as being rooted in consumers’ rights:
“They sell phones, they don’t sell civil liberties,” he said. “That’s our business to worry about.” Sewell said it “makes my blood boil” to hear the government demean Apple’s legal arguments and intentions. “We do this because we think protecting the privacy and security of millions of iPhone users is the right thing to do,” Sewell said.
Apple also reiterated its fears that if created, the “mutant” version of its mobile operating system could wind up in the wrong hands, exposing hundreds of millions of consumers to security vulnerabilities. Sewell says the FBI want Apple to put the software on a hard drive and send it to them, which would allow the bureau to load the software onto another computer.
Statements from everyone who testified are available from the Judiciary Committee website, as well as a video that includes some of the testimony from the hearing. Apple and the FBI will battle at a court hearing over the San Bernardino iPhone issue on March 22.