Key Republican backs Apple in FBI fight

The chair of a key House subcommittee is siding with Apple in its dispute over an FBI court order to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who oversees the House Subcommittee on Information Technology, said he worries about the precedent that Apple’s compliance might set.

ADVERTISEMENT
“This is a much larger debate than just unlocking one phone,” he told CNBC on Friday. “This is about how do we protect civil liberties and chase bad guys at the same time. I think you protect your civil liberties.”

The FBI is asking Apple to create software to disable a failsafe that triggers the phone to wipe its own memory after 10 failed attempts to enter the pass code. Such a change would allow investigators to hack into Syed Farook’s phone. Farook and his wife killed 14 people in the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attacks.

Apple — backed by other tech companies and privacy advocates — has characterized such software as a “backdoor” that hackers could use to crack into other iPhones.

Hurd concurred with this line of thinking.

“If you build a backdoor for the good guys, the bad guys [could] have access to it,” said Hurd a former undercover CIA operative for nearly a decade.

Hurd, a cybersecurity executive before coming to Congress, also warned that the government risked further damaging its already frayed relationship with the tech sector.

The two sides have frequently clashed since government leaker Edward Snowden in 2013 exposed the extent of the government’s secret surveillance program.  

The revelations spurred an encryption arms race that law enforcement officials have warned is allowing terrorists and criminals to increasingly hide from authorities, or “go dark.”

Hurd insisted government must keep industry on its side to counter these threats.

“An important partner in this fight is the private sector,” Hurd said. “A lot of these companies help support those efforts of the intelligence community and law enforcement community.”

Hurd will serve as a key voice as Congress is increasingly pressured to step in and pass legislation to settle this dispute.

Lawmakers backing both the FBI and Apple say Congress must craft a bill to determine when law enforcement should have access to secure devices.

Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel chiefs get subpoena power in Russia probe | Trump orders probe of leaks | Lawmaker unveils 'hacking back' bill Senate Intel heads get broad subpoena power in Russia probe GOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' 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.

But the proposal has already faced fierce pushback from the tech community, as well as some influential national security leaders and tech-focused lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Early next week, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerOvernight Tech: Twitter execs divided over Trump | Group asks FCC to delete fake net neutrality comments | Zuckerberg tells Harvard grads to fight 'forces of authoritarianism' Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel chiefs get subpoena power in Russia probe | Trump orders probe of leaks | Lawmaker unveils 'hacking back' bill Senate Intel heads get broad subpoena power in Russia probe MORE (D-Va.) will introduce compromise legislation. Their bill would establish a commission to study how police might be able to access encrypted data without endangering Americans' privacy.