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Reversing course, a key congressman said lawmakers will need to step into the debate over encryption vs. privacy after Apple said it would oppose a court order demanding it help the FBI hack a spree killer’s cell phone.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) had previously said a legislative approach to the encryption debate was not feasible. But in a statement Wednesday, Schiff said the questions posed by the Apple case “will ultimately need to be resolved by Congress, the administration and industry, rather than the courts alone,” according to a Reuters report.
Schiff is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
The iPhone of San Bernardino mass killer Syed Farook remains locked in the FBI’s possession. Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik allegedly killed 14 people and wounded 21 others at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2.
Of particular interest to detectives is an 18-minute window in which authorities cannot account for the two killers’ whereabouts. The couple was chased down and killed in a shootout roughly two hours after the massacre.
James Comey, director of the FBI, told the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual Hearing on Worldwide Threats earlier this month that Farook’s work-issued phone remained locked.
“We still have one of those killers’ phones that we have not been able to open,” he said. “It’s been over two months, we’re still working on it.”
The White House abandoned a push for encryption-access legislation last year, amid outcry from privacy advocates and opposition from industry players, according to Reuters.
Reuters also reported that the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on encryption for March 1 – and Apple is reportedly invited to take part.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in California ordered Apple to assist the FBI’s hacking attempts on the Farook phone, in a Tuesday decision.
But Apple CEO Tim Cook quickly responded with a public statement saying they would not comply.
“The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge,” Cook contends. “We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country.”
A series of experts told Forensic Magazine last year that Apple products – particularly the iPhone 5 and 6, and the iOS 8 and 9 software releases – are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to access.
Other key industry players have started to weigh in. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, tweeted his support of Apple on Wednesday.
"We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders," Pichai wrote. "But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data. Could be a troubling precedent."
Cybersecurity expert John McAfee, founder of the namesake antivirus company, has also reportedly offered his services to the FBI, claiming he can crack the Apple software.