Dem pushes FBI to drop Apple court order
February 23, 2016
By CORY BENNETT
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) is pressing FBI Director James Comey to withdraw a court order directing Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
“We should all take a deep breath and talk to each other, rather than use a lawsuit to circumvent the critical and necessary policy discussions,” said Lieu in a letter to the FBI chief.
Lieu asked Comey to give Congress and the public time to sort out the complicated issues around government access to locked data, instead of litigating the matter in court.
“The precedent set in this case would essentially enact a policy proposal to weaken encryption that has not yet gained traction in Congress and was previously rejected by the White House,” said Lieu, one of Capitol Hill’s more vocal encryption advocates.
Apple last week defied a court order that compelled the company to help investigators bypass security measures on an iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the two assailants in the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack that left 14 people dead.
The FBI wants Apple to create software that would disable a failsafe feature that wipes the iPhone’s memory after an incorrect password has been entered 10 times in a row.
Apple — backed up by many tech industry groups and privacy advocates — has characterized such software as a dangerous “back door” that could be exploited by hackers to crack all iPhones.
But the FBI insists its request is “quite narrow” and would not create a permanent vulnerability into Apple products.
“I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending, but instead use that breath to talk to each other,” Comey said in a Sunday statement.
“I completely agree with you,” Lieu wrote to Comey.
But the California lawmaker, who represents portions of Los Angeles County, argued the FBI should also slow down its campaign against Apple.
Lieu, who holds a computer science degree, criticized the FBI for using “an antiquated law” to justify its efforts.
The bureau has pointed to the All Writs Act, a 1789 law that allows federal judges to compel others to help the government perform its duties so long as requests are not “unduly burdensome.”
Instead, Lieu requested time for the encryption debate to play out on Capitol Hill.
Lieu is backing the Encrypt Act, which would bar states from passing laws requiring companies to weaken their encryption systems.
Conversely, Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are working on a bill that would require companies to help law enforcement access locked data when compelled by a court order.
Another bill set for introduction soon would establish a national commission to study how law enforcement can access secure data without endangering people’s privacy. Apple has backed these efforts.
“The difficult and challenging issues of balancing people’s liberty, safety and national security should not be decided by unelected entities,” Lieu said.