SAN FRANCISCO — Top government, industry and technology leaders weighed in on the debate sparked by the case of the FBI vs. Apple at the annual RSA Conference here. They only agreed on the importance of cryptography and an open dialog about how it should evolve.
The U.S. Attorney General called for Apple to cooperate with a court order it help open up an iPhone used by a shooter in the San Bernadino attack. She charged Apple with stonewalling progress by refusing to break on that device an iOS security feature introduced last year that erases data after ten unsuccessful attempts to guess a password.
“I’m surprised [Apple’s] choice would be they are done thinking about this issue — that’s not a response I would expect from one of our great American companies,” said Loretta Lynch in an on-stage interview here. “This didn’t seem to be an issue 14 months ago when Apple could respond to government requests,” she said.
Cooperation with law enforcement requests “has been going on for years and we have not had the parade of horribles people are talking about now…we are not asking them to give us the tech tools, they could keep or destroy them—we don’t even want them to get the data,” Lynch said.
“We can have strong encryption, great devices that protect security and privacy and also have an ability to conduct investigations in ways we always have…The issue is how we fully investigate the worst terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11,” she added.
“Do we let one company decide this for all of us—we don’t do that with any other issue,” she asked.
While firm on the Apple case, Lynch also extended an olive branch to the tech community that made up most of the audience.
“My view is our ability to go into devices has to be limited…to what we need to find. With the ability to live in this wonderful country come responsibilities to work under our framework of laws. It’s not about what I say, [requests] have to be approved by a neutral judge,” she said.
Lynch characterized Apple and the tech sector generally as “helpful and cooperative in so many areas…The reality is American industry is very good about using encryption…and responding to court orders.”
She also called for an ongoing dialog. “This case might be considered a flashpoint, but the benefit is we are talking about these issues and after talking at each other we will talk with each other,” she said.
Separately, Lynch announced the U.S. is in talks with the United Kingdom to forge a legal agreement that could become a template for handling conflicts over requests for user data from international governments. Today, companies face penalties from the U.S. if they share user data in response to a subpoena from a foreign government.
The draft agreement would only cover U.S. companies regarding data from U.K. citizens for crimes committed in the U.K., Lynch said. The deal requires approval by Congress and agreement between the two governments on privacy laws, she added.
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