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.

“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 Mauze BurrOvernight Energy: Chemical safety regulator's nomination at risk | Watchdog scolds Zinke on travel records | Keystone pipeline spills 210,000 gallons of oil Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog Collins ‘leaning against’ Trump EPA chemical nominee MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFive things to know about the elephant trophies controversy The feds need to be held accountable for role in Russia scandal Lawyer: Kushner is 'the hero' in campaign emails regarding Russia 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 Robert WarnerTech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks Facebook adds two lobbyists amid 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.