Apple to Defend Encryption, Privacy in House Judiciary Hearing

| News

Apple Senior Vice President and General Counsel Bruce Sewell will be appearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to testify on why giving the FBI the ability to bypass iPhone passcode security measures is a bad idea. FBI Director James Comey will offer up his own testimony, too, explaining why Apple—and by extension, other technology companies—should be subject to court orders compelling them to create hackable operating systems for criminal investigations.

Apple' Bruce Sewell to defend company's privacy and security position during House Judiciary Committee hearingApple' Bruce Sewell to defend company's privacy and security position during House Judiciary Committee hearing

Mr. Sewell will testify along with Worcester Polytechnic Professor Susan Landau and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance. The hearing is scheduled to start at 1PM eastern time. FBI Director Comey will testify alone in a second hearing.

The hearing, titled "The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans' Security and Privacy," is in response to Apple's opposition to a court order the FBI obtained requiring the company to create a special iOS version that doesn't include the safeguards preventing a brute force attack on iPhone passcodes, and lets the agency automate entering passcodes until the correct one is found.

The FBI wants the less secure iOS version so it can hack into the iPhone Syed Farook used prior to a shooting rampage where he and his wife killed 14 of their San Bernardino County coworkers and injured 22 more. The husband and wife team were killed in a shootout with police, then the work issued iPhone was recovered.

Apple assisted the FBI in retrieving as much data from the iPhone as they could, but stopped short of creating a special operating system the FBI could use to hack into the device. The FBI then obtained a court order compelling Apple to do just that.

Apple is contesting the order calling it a threat to privacy and security, and an overreach of government authority. The company filed a motion to vacate the order late last week.

Mr. Sewell's opening statements were released to the media on Monday ahead of Tuesday's hearing. He will use his opening statement to pose three questions:

  • Should limits be imposed on the security for private data?
  • Should the FBI have the power to block companies from improving the security in their products?
  • Should the FBI have the authority to force companies to create new tools and products based on government specifications for government use?

Mr. Sewell will present a case against giving the FBI and the government those powers, and most likely Ms. Landau will, too. Mr. Vance, however, will explain why he thinks the government should be able to compel companies to strip away security and privacy features from our smartphones and other electronic devices.

Mr. Vance's stance comes as no surprise considering he already made it clear he has a long list of cases where he wants to force Apple to help unlock iPhones in criminal investigations.

Directory Comey originally said this court order would be a one-off case, and that it wasn't a precedent setting event. The DOJ contradicted that a few days later with the revelation that it has at least 12 cases where it plans to do the same, and Mr. Comey conceded a few days ago that it would, in fact, be precedent setting.

Tomorrow's hearing won't set policy, although it is the first step in open discussions between government officials and technology companies on the topic. Mr. Sewell will push for a commission on government-mandated iPhone unlocking, and wants to see security, privacy, and encryption addressed at the Congressional level instead of trying to bypass the issue with the All Writs Act, which is over 200 years old and not targeted at modern technologies such as smartphones.

"The FBI is asking Apple to weaken the security of our products," Mr. Sewell's statement reads. "Hackers and cyber criminals could use this to wreak havoc on our privacy and personal safety. It would set a dangerous precedent for government intrusion on the privacy and safety of its citizens."

Next up: Mr. Sewell's full statement to the House Judiciary Committee

Popular TMO Stories

No Comments

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account