Apple ready for encryption 'conversation': lawyer

Advertising

Washington (AFP)

Apple wants a "conversation" to help settle a standoff with the lawmakers over accessing an encrypted iPhone, according to testimony prepared for a congressional hearing.

In a statement prepared for a hearing Tuesday, Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell said the public should understand that "encryption is a good thing, a necessary thing" even if it makes the work of law enforcement more difficult.

The hearing was called with Apple and FBI locked in battle over a warrant seeking to force Apple to help unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in last year's San Bernardino attacks.

Apple's refusal has set off an intense political debate about encrypted devices which provide "keys" only to users.

In his remarks, Sewell said Apple has been stepping up its encryption over the past few years.

"As attacks on our customers' data become increasingly sophisticated, the tools we use to defend against them must get stronger too," he said.

"Weakening encryption will only hurt consumers and other well-meaning users who rely on companies like Apple to protect their personal information."

He added that around the world encryption and other methods help preserve privacy "and it keeps people safe."

Sewell said the question of access to the locked iPhone is a question that lawmakers and the public should decide, renewing Apple's criticism of the use of the broad 1789 All Writs Act that offers broad authority to law enforcement.

"The American people deserve an honest conversation around the important questions stemming from the FBI's current demand," he said.

"Most importantly, the decisions should be made by you and your colleagues as representatives of the people, rather than through a warrant request based on a 220-year-old statute. At Apple, we are ready to have this conversation."

Sewell repeated the comments made by Apple chief Tim Cook, that the FBI is asking the company "to create an operating system that does not exist" which would open "a backdoor into the iPhone."

Separately, two US lawmakers introduced a bill to establish a bipartisan commission of experts to study the issue of access to encrypted devices.

Senator Mark Warner and Representative Mike McCaul proposed the creation of a 16-member "National Commission on Security and Technology Challenges."

The panel would include "leading experts and practitioners from the technology sector, cryptography, law enforcement, intelligence, the privacy and civil liberties community, global commerce and economics, and the national security community" to make recommendations to Congress.