A marathon Capitol Hill hearing spurred talk of guard dogs, picked locks and that mysterious missing Malaysian plane
Apple and the FBI made it clear that even after weeks of debating a terrorist’s locked iPhone, they haven’t run out of things to say.
In a hearing that stretched five hours, U.S. representatives on the House Judiciary Committee grilled FBI Director James Comey and Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell Tuesday about their standoff. The fight pits the world’s most valuable company against investigators digging for clues in the country’s deadliest mass shooting in years.
At the heart of the debate is an iPhone used by one of the shooters in December’s San Bernardino, California, attack, which killed 14 people. Earlier this month, the FBI and the Department of Justice secured a federal order forcing Apple to help law enforcement bypass security protections on the device. Apple cried foul, saying it would be compelled to create programming that could put the privacy of millions of consumers at risk.
Tuesday, both sides and a bevy of lawmakers got a chance to rehash the arguments, air grievances and grandstand to the public.
Here are some of the most noteworthy moments from the hearing:
FBI: This isn’t about a backdoor, it’s about a guard dog
Apple has repeatedly said the federal order would essentially force it to build a backdoor into iPhones, which the government could potentially use in unintended ways and which malicious third parties could exploit to hack into any iPhone users’ data.
Comey dismissed that. “There already is a door on that iPhone,” he said. “We’re asking [Apple] to take away the guard dog so we can pick the lock.”
Apple: Don’t call this a marketing ploy
Soon after Apple CEO Tim Cook published a blistering public lettering laying out the company’s intention to defy the court order, the Justice Department said in a filing that Apple’s refusal appeared to be based on a “marketing strategy.”
Apple’s Sewell said casting the company’s concern over security as a brand ploy was demeaning.
“Every time I hear this, my blood boils,” he said. “We do this because protecting privacy is the right thing to do.”
Is Apple encryption a criminal’s best friend?
The hearing wasn’t limited to Apple and the FBI trading barbs. A panel of experts on cybersecurity and law enforcement weighed in as well.
Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. highlighted the potential criminal repercussions of encryption, which scrambles digital information so that’s its indecipherable without a key to decode it.
Vance called Apple’s iOS 8 operational programming “warrant-proof,” creating zones of information even search warrants cannot access. It’s something criminals exploit, he said. “They are quite literally laughing at us, and they are astounded they have a means of communication totally secure from government reach,” he said.
To prove his point, Vance quoted a recorded phone conversation from Rikers Island prison in New York, during which an inmate referred to Apple’s encryption as “a gift from God.”
Lawmaker: Be careful what you wish for
Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner lashed Apple for its defiance and for its calls on Congress to act instead of letting the issue be decided in courts.”I guarantee you won’t like what comes out of Congress,” he said.
“All you’ve been doing is saying, ‘No, no, no, no,'” he said. “The thing is, you ask Congress to do something, and I asked you what Congress should do. You said, ‘We have nothing.'”
Apple helped hunt for the mysteriously missing Malaysian plane
Asked about whether Apple would dig in its heels when asked to help obtain important data in an emergency, Sewell listed other times the company helped law enforcement in important cases — including the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared in 2014.
“When the Malaysia Airline plane went down, within one hour of that plane being declared missing, we had Apple operators cooperating with telephone providers all over the world, with the airlines and with local law enforcement [and] the FBI to try to find a ping, to try to find some way we could locate where that plane was,” he said.
FBI admits a “mistake made”
After the FBI previously dismissed it as a error, Comey conceded that investigators made a “mistake” by resetting the iCloud passcode linked to the shooter’s iPhone, making it harder to access its contents.
“There was a mistake made in that 24 hours after the attack, where the county, at the FBI’s request, took steps that made it hard, impossible later, to cause the phone to back up again to the iCloud,” the FBI director said.
But Comey said the government would still be fighting Apple to get tools that bypass other security features on the phone, regardless of the slip.