Week ahead: Apple-FBI fight heads to Congress

Week ahead: Apple-FBI fight heads to Congress
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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.


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 KingGOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal White House cyber chief backs new federal bureau to track threats Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights 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 Mauze BurrSeven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill Senate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children 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 Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response One officer dead after violent incident outside Pentagon Bipartisan bill would create NSC position to oversee 'Havana syndrome' response 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.



The U.S. military has launched an aggressive cyber war campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that is targeting the terrorist group's ability to communicate and spread propaganda online: http://bit.ly/1RtrtnY

The FBI is facing claims it deliberately selected the emotionally charged case of the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone to force a precedent on encryption policy: http://bit.ly/1R7OxG5

The top technology official at the federal agency hit by massive hacks last summer has resigned after months of calls from some members of Congress for her firing: http://bit.ly/21aP9Fw

The Obama administration still can't assess whether China is adhering to a September pledge to stop hacking private American companies, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers this week: http://bit.ly/2101lU2

FBI director James Comey allowed that a decision in the Apple case could be "instructive" for other courts, a subtle shift from his earlier position that it was "not about setting a precedent": http://bit.ly/1LKebPw