U.S. government, Apple take encryption case to court of public opinion

Tue Feb 23, 2016 12:08pm EST
 
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By Dustin Volz and Abhirup Roy

(Reuters) - Apple Inc on Monday urged the creation of a government panel on encryption, the latest salvo in a standoff over a locked iPhone linked to the San Bernardino shooting that has escalated into a public relations battle between the revered technology company and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook also sent a letter to employees Monday morning, making clear the company's hardline stance refusing to make software to unlock the phone addresses broader issues, not just a single device linked to a grisly attack.

"This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation," Cook said in the email to employees, seen by Reuters. "At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties."

But FBI Director James Comey, in an article published late Sunday on the national security legal blog Lawfare, asserted the case was not about setting a new legal precedent but rather about "victims and justice."

"Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined," Comey wrote. "We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That's what this is."

A federal judge last week ordered Apple to create new software and take others steps to retrieve data from the locked phone, used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, who was killed in a gun battle with police.

This move also received support from Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates, who said technology companies should be forced to co-operate with law enforcement in terrorism investigations, the Financial Times reported late Monday. (on.ft.com/1UjDWgz)

"This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case," Gates told the Financial Times.   Continued...

 
The Apple logo is pictured behind the clock at Grand Central Terminal in the Manhattan borough of New York, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri