FBI Should Drop Demand That Apple Crack iPhone, Lawmaker Says

The "profound issues" raised by the FBI's demand that Apple create new back doors for the iPhone should be decided by Congress, not judges, a federal lawmaker says in a letter to FBI Director James Comey.

"The difficult and challenging issues of balancing privacy, liberty, safety, and national security should not be decided by unelected entities, such as private sector companies, governmental investigatory bodies, or magistrate judges," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) wrote today in a letter asking Comey to withdraw his demand that Apple create software that would weaken encryption on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

"Let's all take a deep breath and start talking to each other instead of fighting in court," writes Lieu, a military vet, former prosecutor, and Stanford University computer-science graduate.

Lieu is weighing in on the highly publicized clash between Apple and the FBI over encryption.

Last Friday, U.S. MagistrateJudge Sheri Pym in the Central District of California ordered Apple to develop software that will disable a security feature that prevents hackers from repeatedly testing different passwords on the phone.

Apple, which is challenging that order, says that this type of software could be used to hack other devices. "In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks," CEO Tim Cook made that point again today, in a new Web site devoted to the dispute. "Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals."

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has expressed support for Apple, as has Google's Sundar Pichai.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates also weighed in -- although his views are somewhat ambiguous. At first, he appeared to back the FBI's request. "This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” Gates told the Financial Times. He compared the government's request in this case to requests to obtain records from a phone company or a bank.

But after that report appeared, Gates indicated he viewed the situation as nuanced. “The extreme view that government always gets everything, nobody supports that. Having the government be blind, people don’t support that," he told Bloomberg.

It also emerged today that the FBI has asked judges to order Apple to help access iPhones or iPads on at least 15 occasions since last October. Those requests are currently pending in seven different federal courts, according to Mashable.

At this point, there's no way to know how the judges in various courts will rule, or how the appellate courts will view the issue. But the fact that so many different judges will be able to weigh in on the issue guarantees that Pym's decision in the San Bernardino matter won't be the final word on iPhone encryption.

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