The White House says the FBI isn't trying to undermine Apple’s security system following a court order requesting the company unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Apple quickly refused to comply with the order, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent of government overreach into how companies design security tools.
The FBI is "simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device,” he said.
A "back door" is an encryption entry point. Technologists say back doors make devices inherently insecure.
Earnest didn’t address the broader subject of whether law enforcement officials should have guaranteed access to encrypted data. The topic has been heavily debated in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
“For the merits of that argument, and why the Department of Justice has concluded that that's important, I'd refer you to them,” he said.
The standoff between Apple and the government is quickly becoming a test case that could determine the future of access to encrypted devices.
The incident is part of a long-simmering conflict between the tech community and law enforcement.
The FBI and other government officials have long warned criminals and terrorists are increasingly relying on encrypted platforms to hide from authorities, a phenomenon they call “going dark.” They say investigators’ hands are tied without some form of guaranteed access to secure data.
Technologists and major tech firms have fought back, arguing that ensuring investigators access to secured data introduces vulnerabilities that nefarious actors could exploit, putting basic Internet activities such as online banking at risk.
The White House has mostly stayed on the fence to this point, acknowledging the validity of both arguments.
For months, the administration looked into potential technological solutions to give officials an encryption entry point.
But last fall, the White House backed away from any of these solutions, saying it would not seek any legislation or mandate for the time being.
The White House has since said it is preparing an updated stance on its encryption policy. Observers believe it could come at any point.