Apple Defends iPhone Encryption To Congress

Apple will tell the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow that "strong encryption" is the best way to protect people from identity theft.

"Hundreds of millions of law-abiding people trust Apple’s products with the most intimate details of their daily lives -- photos, private conversations, health data, financial accounts, and information about the user's location as well as the location of their friends and families," general counsel Bruce Sewell plans to say tomorrow in his opening statement at a hearing. "Some of you might have an iPhone in your pocket right now, and if you think about it, there's probably more information stored on that iPhone than a thief could steal by breaking into your house. The only way we know to protect that data is through strong encryption."

Sewell also will argue that Congress -- and not a judge -- should make the decision about how to weigh consumers' privacy against the needs of law enforcement. Despite that stance, Apple also argues that Pym's order is unconstitutional. If Apple right about that, any by Congress to limit encryption might also be held unconstitutional.

Despite their differences, Apple and law enforcement representatives clearly agree that far more is at stake in this fight than whether a single iPhone will be decrypted.

New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who wants Apple to help crack iPhones, plans to testify that his office is "locked out" of 175 Apple devices that are connected with investigations into "the attempted murder of three individuals, the sexual abuse of a child, sex trafficking, child pornography, assault, robbery, identity theft, and all manner of other crimes."

Tomorrow's hearing comes as Apple and the FBI are embroiled in a high-profile battle about encryption on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in the Central District of California recently ordered Apple to develop software to help the FBI hack into the device. The FBI specifically wants Apple to disable a security feature that prevents hackers from repeatedly testing different passwords on the phone; Apple says doing so would require it to develop a new operating system.

Apple last week asked Pym to vacate that order, which is based on Pym's interpretation of the 1789 All Writs Act. That law states that courts "may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law."

The company says in its court papers that creating a new operating system would provide "an avenue for criminals and foreign agents to access millions of iPhones."

Sewell makes the same point in his prepared testimony. "The FBI is asking Apple to weaken the security of our products. 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," he will tell Congress.

Next story loading loading..