5 Interesting Points from Judiciary Committee Encryption Hearing

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Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing on encryption issues was a five hour rollercoaster of questions, answers, and arguments. TMO's Jeff Gamet picked five interesting points that stood out from testimony presented by Apple's General Counsel Bruce Sewell, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professor Susan Landau, and FBI Director James Comey.

FBI Director Comey testifying at House Judiciary Committee hearing on encryptionFBI Director Comey testifying at House Judiciary Committee hearing on encryption

Today's hearing was spurred by the debate over the legality of an FBI obtained court order requiring Apple to create a password hackable version of the iPhone's operating system. The FBI wants the tool so it can find the passcode on an iPhone related to last December's mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Apple helped officials try to locate lost Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Bruce Sewell: "When the Malaysia Airline went down, within one hour of that plane being declared missing, we had Apple operators cooperating with telephone providers all over the world—with the airlines and with the FBI to try to find a ping. To try to find some way we could locate where that plane was."

The NSA doesn't have tools that can crack iPhone security

Directory Comey said the FBI consulted with other Federal agencies looking for ways to hack into the iPhone without Apple's help. When asked about the NSA specifically, he said the agency doesn't have any tools that can break through the iPhone's encryption

James Comey: "If we could have done this quietly and privately, we would have done it."

Other U.S. government agencies can crack iPhone security

Contradicting Director Comey's assertion that no one has tools to hack through iPhone security, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professor and security expert Susan Landau said the NSA does, in fact have that capability.

Susan Landau: "The FBI needs to take a page from the NSA."

The tools the FBI wants will work on modern iPhones, not just the 5c

Bruce Sewell: "There's no distinction between a 5C and 6 in this context. The tool we're being asked to create will work on any iPhone in use today."

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has no problem schooling the FBI on encryption

Congressman Issa hammered Director Comey with a string of questions about the steps the FBI took to recover data from Syed Farook's iPhone 5c. He wanted to know if the FBI asked Apple for the device's source code, if they tried duplicating the device's stored data.

Darrell Issa: "I'm doing this because I came out of the security business and this befuddles me that you haven't looked at the source code, and you don't really understand the disk drive... How can you come before this committee—before a Federal Judge—and demand someone else invent something if you can't answer the questions that your people have tried this?

James Comey: "I don't know." (repeatedly)

Today's hearing is only a part in the bigger discussion surrounding privacy, digital security, and criminal investigations. Apple is fighting the FBI's court order and it's possible that could lead all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Comments

ibuck

Was this televised? Did anyone watch IT? It would good to know if FBI Director Comey looked like he knew what he’s doing.

JustCause
MarcusNewton

I think it is hilarious that Darrel Issa said “understand the disk drive” when talking about iPhones.  It made it sound like iPhones use the old floppy disks in order to operate.  I would have loved it if someone asked the FBI if they made sure they inserted disk 2 before disk 3.

I can understand Apple wanting a technology commission because it seems congress does not understand anything past Windows 95 and their still in use Blackberry.  (Even that level of understanding might be pushing it.)

dtm1

“James Comey: “I don’t know.”

Because this is NOT about accessing this one iPhone - which has nothing on it of value - it is about the federal government wanting a backdoor into all encrypted mobile devices. A court precedent that will then be used on all devices. The Peoples end of privacy at all levels.

Dean Lewis

“Was this televised? Did anyone watch IT? It would good to know if FBI Director Comey looked like he knew what he’s doing.”

I watched it. Comey came across as very professional and did look like he knew exactly what he was doing. His arguments were, of course, biased toward law enforcement, but he continually said he hoped for a legislative solution eventually that would balance privacy and security needs. He was more diplomatic about it all than Vance was, but considering a few answers don’t be fooled that he doesn’t want an open door into the phones.

“I think it is hilarious that Darrel Issa said “understand the disk drive” when talking about iPhones.”

I got the impression Issa was trying to keep the language as simple as possible both for people listening in, soundbites for the news for non-techie folk, and also for Director Comey who came across as really ignorant of the tech involved (I suspect most of that was an act—he knows enough to phrase his answers and requests).

Overall I found the congresspeople to be really knowledgeable of what was going on. There were a few who weren’t, and the two who were mostly ignorant were Sensenbrenner and Gowdy who clearly were posturing for the cameras and their constituents. Gowdy kept pressing Sewell to provide some legislation ideas so they could pass something without future Apple objection. I was surprised Sewell kept it together enough to not say, “Apple isn’t Congress; you all need to do your jobs and we’ll do ours.”

Dean Lewis

Edit to add to above: And by Gowdy asking for ideas, I mean he phrased it as if he wanted Apple to actually write legislation.

Lee Dronick

  James Comey: “If we could have done this quietly and privately, we would have done it.”

Instead they gave Apple a big marketing tool.

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