FBI, Apple clash before Congress over encryption

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government calls it a "vicious guard dog" that hurts national security. Apple says it's critical to protecting consumer privacy against increasingly sophisticated hackers.

See Full Article

As the debate over built-in iPhone encryption has deadlocked in the courts, law enforcement and the world's second-largest cellphone maker agreed on one point Tuesday: It's now up to Congress to set boundaries in a long-simmering fight over who can legally access your digital life.

"We're asking Apple to take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock," FBI Director James Comey told a House judiciary panel Tuesday, referring to a locked iPhone tied to the deadly December shooting in San Bernardino, California.

"The FBI is asking Apple to weaken the security of our products," Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell countered.

Tuesday's hearing shifted attention from the courts - where judges in the last month have issued significant but conflicting opinions - to Congress, where both sides say the broader policy debate belongs.

It also provided an extraordinary public forum for the Obama administration and Apple Inc. to stake out competing positions that could have sweeping ramifications. Apple's recent opposition to bypassing security features for the government has pushed that dispute from tech circles into the mainstream.

The strong positions articulated Tuesday make clear the deep divide between Silicon Valley and the government, even as the Obama administration advocates open dialogue and resolution.

"Is it the right thing to make our society overall less safe in order to solve crime?" Sewell asked. "That's the issue that we're wrestling with."

On Monday, a federal judge in Brooklyn said the Obama administration couldn't force Apple to help it gain access to the phone in a drug case. U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein said Justice Department attorneys were relying on the centuries-old All Writs Act "to produce impermissibly absurd results."

But two weeks ago, a different magistrate judge in California, Sheri Pym, directed the company to help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone used by one of the shooters in the December attack in San Bernardino, which killed 14 people.

With those two conflicting rulings in mind, Congress needs to get involved to address the broader collision between privacy and public safety, Comey said.

The Obama administration last year decided against a legislative fix.

Now, though, "Congress must decide this issue," said Sewell, while also criticizing the U.S. government for simultaneously supporting encryption used by activists and journalists in countries with fewer free-speech rights.

The San Bernardino case involves an iPhone 5C owned by San Bernardino County and used by Syed Farook, who was a health inspector there. He and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, later died in a gun battle with police. The FBI wants specialized software that would bypass security protocols on the encrypted phone so investigators can test random passcode combinations in rapid sequence to access its data.

Should Apple create the specialized software to allow the FBI to hack the iPhone, Comey said it would take 26 minutes to do what's known as a brute force attack - testing multiple passcodes in quick succession.

The FBI director also acknowledged there "was a mistake made" shortly after the San Bernardino attack, when the FBI asked the county - which owned the phone - to reset the password for Farook's iCloud account.

That data, stored on Apple servers, kept backups of his phone. Had the password not been reset, the phone may have made a fresh backup available to investigators for further examination. Still, Comey said, "the experts tell me there's no way we would have gotten everything off the phone from a backup."

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, a critic of the administration's domestic surveillance practices, asked Comey whether the FBI had first asked Apple for the underlying iPhone software - called source code by developers - before trying to force the company to create its own digital workaround.

Issa suggested the FBI hasn't exhausted its own efforts before the government went to court. Comey said he had "high confidence that all elements of the U.S. government" had been focused on this problem, and that Apple had never suggested an alternative to resolve the problem.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told the House panel Tuesday that there are 205 phones his investigators can't access in criminal investigations.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte said technology is moving toward newer generations of encryption and security, and "we're going to have to figure out a different way to help law enforcement."

"But I don't think we're going to say we're not going to ignore the vulnerabilities that exist," said Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia. "And not change the fact that law enforcement is going to have to change the way it investigates and gathers evidence."

Alex Abdo, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's speech, privacy and technology project, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the larger debate is "ultimately about whether we trust our devices."

"If the government prevails, then there is nothing to stop it from turning every major tech company into a tool of government surveillance," Abdo said. "Companies will be required to spy on, rather than secure, their customers."

-----

Associated Press writer Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • U.S. honeybee losses improve from horrible to bad

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- There's a glimmer of hope for America's ailing honeybees as winter losses were the lowest in more than a decade, according to a U.S. survey of beekeepers released Thursday. Beekeepers lost 21 per cent of their colonies over last winter, the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey found. Source
  • From phishing to false documents, researchers detail a cyberespionage campaign that points to Russia

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A lengthy report by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab details a global espionage campaign involving email phishing attacks and leaked falsified documents. Although there is no "smoking gun" so to speak, there is overlap with previously reported Russian activities, the report released Thursday suggests. Source
  • Foster owl takes fluffy, orphaned owlet under its wing

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A fluffy, five-week-old orphaned baby owlet is getting a second chance at survival thanks to the help of a rescue centre in B.C. and the guidance of an experienced foster owl. The adorable little male hatchling has been recovering at the Raptors Rescue Society in Duncan, B.C. Source
  • New Zealand test rocket makes it to space but not to orbit

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WELLINGTON, New Zealand - California-based company Rocket Lab said Thursday it had launched a test rocket into space from its New Zealand launch pad, although the rocket didn't reach orbit as hoped. The company said its Electron rocket lifted off at 4:20 p.m. Source
  • Chinese champion begins rematch against computer in ancient game of Go

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WUZHEN, China - China's top player of the ancient board game of go began a second game against a computer Thursday in a competition authorities limited the Chinese public's ability to see. Google's AlphaGo program defeated 19-year-old prodigy Ke Jie on Tuesday in the first of three games they are due to play this week at a forum on artificial intelligence in this town west of Shanghai. Source
  • Computer wins rematch against Chinese champion in ancient game of Go

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WUZHEN, China -- A computer beat China's top player of go, one of the last games machines have yet to master, for a second time Thursday in a competition authorities limited the Chinese public's ability to see. Source
  • Surge in value for Bitcoin cryptocurrency

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The value of the Bitcoin, the internet's most widely used virtual currency, has more than doubled since the beginning of 2017, recently passing the symbolic $2,000 mark and setting a new record. While the currency is becoming more widely used and accepted, it is still often associated with the darker side of the internet. Source
  • Snowy plover chick hatches on Oregon beach for first time since 1960s

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PORTLAND, Ore. -- A Western snowy plover chick that hatched on an Oregon beach this spring is the first of its species to emerge successfully in that area in more than 50 years and provides hope that a management plan for the federally threatened species is working, wildlife officials said Wednesday. Source
  • Endangered salamanders put quarry on hold as residents fight against project

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A group of Ontario residents trying to ward off the development of a new quarry in their community say they have found two endangered salamanders that they hope will convince authorities to put an end to the project. Source
  • Temperatures to 'teeter-totter' across Canada this summer

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The lack of a clear El Niño or La Niña out in the Pacific Ocean means weather patterns across much of Canada are likely to remain changeable and active for much of the summer, top meteorologists are forecasting. Source