A bipartisan group of ten U.S. Representatives has co-penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice questioning the FBI’s lawsuit against Apple over a dead terrorist’s iPhone. The letter was sparked by a DOJ report that found the FBI hadn’t exhausted its resources before suing Apple. The lawmakers suggest this was, “precisely because the Bureau wanted to force the issue in court,” according to Reuters.
Which is, frankly, how the whole thing felt at the time, at least from this pundit’s viewpoint. Then-FBI Director James Comey believed it imperative law enforcement obtain backdoors into encrypted communications systems and encrypted devices.
While some lawmakers support this notion—retiring Representative Trey Goudy (R-SC) comes to mind, as does Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) —U.S. intelligence services have long understood that weakening encryption empowers the bad guys and hostile state actors alike more than it benefits law enforcement.
That appears to be where this new bipartisan group of lawmakers—evenly split between Republicans and Democrats—appears to be coming from. If so, that’s good news, because it would likely require Congressional legislation to force companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and a host of others to build in the backdoors desired by Mr. Comey and current FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The letter also said the DOJ report, “undermines the statements that the FBI made during the San Bernardino litigation and consistently since then, that only the device manufacturer could provide a solution.”
Lastly, the lawmakers want3 to know if the FBI exhausted its resources in unlocking another 7,800 devices it currently has. The Bureau has cited these devices as evidence of the “going dark” threat of a world with encrypted communications. As it was, the FBI eventually paid Israeli company Cellebrite US$900,000 to open the San Bernardino device, dropping its suit in the process.
This is just one letter from ten like-minded legislators, some of whom may not survive the next midterms. That’s far from a majority consensus of lawmakers who would protect encrypted communications; but it’s an excellent sign that we’re also far from a majority of lawmakers who would instead threaten encryption.