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Week ahead: Apple-FBI fight heads to Congress

Week ahead: Apple-FBI fight heads to Congress
© Getty

The fight between Apple and the FBI over a locked iPhone is heading to Capitol Hill, with both bureau chief James Comey and a top Apple executive testifying at the same hearing.

The two sides have been at loggerheads since Apple earlier this month rebuffed a court order directing it to help the FBI access an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

On Tuesday, Comey will get to make his case before the House Judiciary Committee, just before Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell testifies on a second panel.

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The FBI wants Apple to create software that would disable a failsafe feature that causes the phone to wipe its memory if an incorrect password is entered 10 times in a row.

Apple contends such software constitutes a "backdoor" that hackers could use to crack other iPhones. The company also claims the request would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the government increasing their demands for assistance in hacking secure devices.

Top companies in Silicon Valley, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook, are expected to back Apple's argument next week by filing friend-of-the-court briefs in the case.

But the FBI insists it is not interested in setting a precedent and just wants to access this one device through a specific method that couldn't be used to hack other iPhones.

Capitol Hill's increasing involvement in the issue highlights a growing bipartisan consensus that lawmakers -- and not the courts -- will ultimately have to settle this dispute.

"This is a huge issue which is very complex. It should not be decided by a single district judge in California, it should be decided right here," Sen. Angus KingAngus KingBudowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? This Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks Angus King: Trump's not draining swamp, he's adding alligators MORE (I-Maine) told The Hill this week. But, he added, "I don't think we're ready to articulate" what legislation is needed.

The Apple-FBI standoff has become the most high-profile and urgent example of a long-running rift between the tech community and law enforcement over access to encrypted data.

The FBI and law enforcement officials warn that terrorists and criminals are increasingly using encrypted platforms to hide from authorities, or "go dark." They believe tech companies should provide investigators with some type of guaranteed access to secure data.

But tech companies have resisted. Backed by digital rights advocates and technologists, they argue that unbreakable encryption is integral to global digital security and online privacy.

Experts believe the outcome of the case, which may go all the way to the Supreme Court, could set the guidelines for when the government can force these companies to decrypt data upon request.

Unless Congress steps in first. Lawmakers though have yet to coalesce around any proposal.

Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrTop Intel Dem: Congress 'far from consensus' on encryption Trump must be an advocate for the Small Business Administration Dems pledge to fight Sessions nomination MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinFeinstein after dinner with Clinton: She has 'accepted' her loss Dems fear Trump undermining US stature Dems push for panel to probe Russian interference in election MORE (D-Calif.) -- the leaders of the Select Intelligence Committee -- are working on a bill that would require companies to unlock phones under court order.

That bill has faced fierce pushback from the tech community -- and some influential national security leaders and tech-focused lawmakers on Capitol Hill -- who argue such access would force companies to build vulnerabilities into their systems that malicious hackers would be able to exploit.

Early next week, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerSenate Democrats dig in as shutdown approaches Overnight Cybersecurity: Georgia accuses DHS of trying to hack election system Overnight Finance: Senate Dems dig in as shutdown looms | Trump taps fast-food exec for Labor chief | Portland's new CEO tax MORE (D-Va.) will introduce compromise legislation. The bill would establish a commission to study how police might be able to access encrypted data without endangering Americans' privacy.

On Wednesday, McCaul predicted the measure "gets a lot of momentum."

"I do believe the administration will be supportive," he added.

 

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