On March 1, 2016, Apple’s head lawyer Bruce Sewell and FBI Director James Comey testified at a U.S. congressional hearing on encryption issues, where both sides reiterated many of the same arguments that have been circulating since Apple was ordered to help the FBI unlock the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.
The hearing is called “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy,” and it’s available to livestream for those who want to watch it as it happens. It begins at 9:30 AM PT/12:30 PM ET, with the hearing beginning with FBI Director James Comey, and eventually moving to Apple’s Bruce Sewell.
One of the most concerning points raised at the hearing (via The Verge) covered the precedent that would be set for other countries around the world should Apple be forced to break into an iPhone in the United States.
I think the world is watching what happens in our government right now and what happens right now with this particular debate. Our ability to maintain a consistent position around the world, our ability to say we will not compromise the safety and security of any of our users around the world, is substantially weakened if we are forced to make that compromise here in our own country.”
Sewell went on to say that Apple has not received similar demands for data from “any other country,” but that if the company is ordered to comply, “it will be a hot minute before we get those requests from other places.”
Sewell also shared an interesting tidbit on the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 when asked how quickly Apple is able to respond to government requests for assistance. When the flight went missing, Apple started working with officials “within one hour” to attempt to locate the plane. “We had Apple operators working with telephone providers all over the world, with the airlines, and with the FBI to find a ping,” he said.
You can watch the livestream in the video embedded below.
Comey asked the committee to consider the implications of places law enforcement can’t reach. “If there are warrant-proof spaces in American life, what does that mean? What are the costs?” Comey also reiterated the FBI’s position that no other agency, such as the National Security Agency, has a tool that can break an iPhone 5c running iOS 9.
Susan Landau raised some salient questions about the FBI’s available technology, suggesting the government agency needs to focus on innovating and recruiting talent to build better tools rather than asking Apple to build the software. “Instead of laws and regulations that weaken our protections, we should enable law enforcement to develop twenty-first century capabilities for conducting investigations,” she said.
New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance said New York now has more than a hundred devices it would like to see unlocked, further confirming Apple’s point that the argument isn’t about just one iPhone. “No device or company, no matter how popular, should be able to exempt itself from court obligations unilaterally,” he told the committee.
In a separate, but parallel, case, a New York Judge ruled that the U.S. government cannot enact the 18th Century All Writs Act to enforce Apple to assist in unlocking an iPhone. While that ruling will not directly impact the decision made in this particular case, it should at least play a part in underlying opinions moving forward.
Apple and the FBI Testify in Front of a U.S. Congressional Hearing [Video]