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Senate Dem questions FBI's 'truthfulness' during Apple iPhone spat

Senate Dem questions FBI's 'truthfulness' during Apple iPhone spat

A prominent privacy advocate in the Senate is questioning whether the FBI was totally honest throughout its spat with Apple over a terrorist's locked iPhone.

“There are real questions about whether they’ve been straight with the public on this,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.) told The Hill.

Apple in February rebuffed an FBI court order directing the tech giant to unlock an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters behind the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack.

The bureau wanted Apple to create software that would allow investigators to bypass security features and hack the phone. Officials said the request was narrowly tailored to Farook’s phone. But Apple insisted such software was a dangerous “backdoor” that could be used to access millions of other iPhones.

“There’s a real truthfulness question,” said Wyden, a vocal defender of encryption. “The FBI contended for weeks that this was about one phone. I and others said, ‘Well, you’re asking the company to recreate code. That is not one phone.’”

Wyden is also troubled by the FBI’s response to local law enforcement officials who openly said they would use any precedent set in the Apple-FBI case to force the tech company to unlock phones they had seized.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said he has 175 phones in custody he is hoping to access.

“Even more troubling is toward the end of it, Cyrus Vance and the whole New York people said, ‘Oh we got lots of cases, you bet we’re going to use it,’” Wyden said. “The FBI didn’t brush that back.”

The Justice Department unexpectedly dropped its case after revealing the FBI had been shown a new way to crack into the phone without Apple’s assistance.

But Wyden cautioned that the matter is not settled.

“We know the FBI is going to be back at this very soon,” he said.

The Oregon Democrat is emphasizing that the issue at hand is not a choice between the privacy of iPhone users and security of the public.

Instead, he said, it’s a matter of whether we want more security or less security. And forcing Apple — or any tech company — to help authorities access locked and encrypted devices means less security, Wyden said. 

“This is not the end of it,” Wyden said.