GOP senator: Apple is ‘company of choice for terrorists’

GOP senator: Apple is ‘company of choice for terrorists’
© Getty Images

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Ark.) is blasting Apple for protecting terrorists after the company refused to cooperate with a court order to unlock one of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhones.

“It's unfortunate that the great company Apple is becoming the company of choice for terrorists, drug dealers and sexual predators of all sorts,” he said in a statement late Wednesday, joining several other Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail who called on Apple to cooperate.


The FBI wants Apple to assist in bypassing some of the security features on a government-owned iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook for his job at the county health department. It says the phone could contain information valuable to its investigation into the San Bernardino, Calif., terror attacks that left 14 people dead last December.

Apple has resisted, arguing such a move would force the company to create new software that amounts to a “back door” into the encrypted device. This type of software is “too dangerous to create,” the company said, because it could give hackers and cyber spies a road map to infiltrate all iPhones.

The standoff is expected to lead to a protracted legal battle that could determine the future of access to encrypted devices.

"Apple chose to protect a dead ISIS terrorist's p‎rivacy over the security of the American people,” Cotton said.

Cotton has been an outspoken proponent of law enforcement in the recent battles over government surveillance and encryption standards.

He spearheaded a push late last year to delay the expiration of controversial National Security Agency (NSA) spying powers. Cotton was also behind a contentious amendment to a major cybersecurity bill that would have allowed companies to share data about hacking threats directly with the FBI. Both efforts fell short.

Cotton said Apple’s decision to not comply with the court order is further evidence Congress must step in on these matters.

The FBI and other law enforcement officials have argued criminals and terrorists are increasingly using encrypted communications to hide from authorities, a phenomenon they call “going dark.”

“The executive and legislative branches have been working with the private sector with the hope of resolving the 'going dark' problem,” Cotton said. “Regrettably, the position [CEO] Tim Cook and Apple have taken shows that they are unwilling to compromise and that legislation is likely the only way to resolve this issue.”

Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California MORE (D-Calif.) — the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top two members — are working on a bill that could force companies to comply with court orders like the one Apple rejected.

Technologists say such a bill would essentially ban end-to-end encryption, which only allows the sender and receiver of a message to see its contents.

“The problem of end-to-end encryption isn't just a terrorism issue,” Cotton said. “It is also a drug-trafficking, kidnapping and child pornography issue that impacts every state of the union.”

But there is considerable opposition within Congress to these efforts.

A bipartisan coalition of privacy advocates and civil libertarians has been warning that the Burr-Feinstein bill would damage global security. Requiring companies to guarantee access to encrypted devices introduces vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers, they say.

These lawmakers came out in support of Apple throughout Wednesday.

Tech-focused Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) called the court order “misguided.”

Apple, she said, is “unable to deliver to the government what they do not have — in this case, a key to break into their operating system in the manner the FBI desires.”

“It is astonishing that a court would consider it lawful to order a private American company be commandeered for the creation of a new operating system in response,” Lofgren added.

Rep. Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBenePowerful Democrats push back on one-year extension of child tax credit Democrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision Democrats want to bolster working women, but face tortuous choices MORE (D-Wash.), a former tech industry executive, called the FBI’s move “an irresponsible solution to a complex problem.”

“This court order is not about a single iPhone, case or company,” she said. “It is about setting a precedent that says it is OK to force companies to create new master keys to break into devices Americans rely on every day to handle sensitive information.”