Lynch Defends FBI Stance in Fight With Apple Over Suspect's Data

LYNCH HOUSE

Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney general, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Nov. 17, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
  • U.S. attorney general testifies Wednesday before lawmakers
  • Lynch cites legal precedent in bid for company help with phone

Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended the U.S. government’s insistence that Apple Inc. comply with a judge’s order to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers, saying there’s ample legal precedent for requiring third parties to aid a search for evidence.

“If the government needs the assistance of third parties to ensure that search is actually conducted, judges all over the country and on the Supreme Court have said that those parties must assist if it is reasonably within their power to do so,” Lynch said in remarks prepared for delivery at a House subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department’s budget.

While not mentioning Apple by name in her prepared text, Lynch made it clear she was referring to the dispute between the U.S. and the iPhone maker. Citing privacy concerns, the company has so far has refused to comply with a judge’s order that it help the FBI gain access to the contents of an iPhone used by one of the two shooters in the December massacre.

“As we have seen recently, this is not a theoretical issue,” Lynch said. “We owe it to the victims and the public whose safety we must protect to ensure we have done everything under the law to fully investigate terrorist attacks on American soil.”​

Larger Debate

The dispute between Apple and the Justice Department is part of a larger debate within Congress, the administration and the technology industry about whether law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be able to access encrypted communications.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation served Apple with a court order on Feb. 16 requiring the company to write a new software program to unlock the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook in the shooting spree in December. Farook, along with his wife, shot to death 14 workers in San Bernardino, California, before the couple was killed by police. The FBI wants to know where they had been and who helped them.

Apple is refusing to cooperate. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has vowed to fight the order, saying the software doesn’t exist and creating it would set a "dangerous precedent" and potentially put billions of iPhones at risk of being hacked or spied on by governments. Apple’s response to the court is due Friday.

In her prepared remarks, Lynch highlighted the $38 million requested by the Justice Department to help develop tools to access encrypted data and communications, saying it was needed to pursue criminals who try to hide electronic evidence of their crimes.

“As we’ve made clear, the Going Dark problem is a very real threat to law enforcement’s mission to protect public safety and ensure that criminals are caught and held accountable,” Lynch said.

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