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 US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
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.
“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 .
Gates’ decision sets him apart from other Silicon Valley top executives, such as Facebook Inc chief Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter Inc founder Jack Dorsey and Google head Sundar Pichai, who have all backed Cook’s decision, the newspaper added.
The company is fighting the order, arguing that creating such a key will jeopardise the security of all iPhones. The company’s formal legal arguments are expected Friday.
The Justice Department’s manoeuvres over the past week have prompted Apple supporters to suggest the case is as much about putting political pressure on Apple and influencing the broader policy debate on encryption as it is about getting data from Farook’s phone.