FBI director James Comey calls iPhone encryption a 'vicious guard dog' during Apple hearing

FBI director James Comey described the encryption built into iPhones as a “vicious guard dog”, as representatives from the FBI and Apple gave evidence to the US House Judiciary Committee during a five-hour hearing.

Apple and the FBI have been clashing over whether or not the tech giant should help the government agency unlock the iPhone belonging to San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook.

During the hearing, the US Congress heard arguments over who can unlock smartphones belonging to criminal suspect.

FBI director James Comey (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“There’s already a door on that iPhone. We’re asking Apple to take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock,” Comey said.

Apple’s lawyer Bruce Sewell warned that the government is forcing Apple to weaken the security of its products with potentially catastrophic consequences.

“Some of you might have an iPhone in your pocket right now, and if you think about it, there’s probably more information stored on that iPhone than a thief could steal by breaking into your house,” Sewell said in a prepared testimony.

“The only way we know to protect that data is through strong encryption.”

Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewell (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

But US law enforcement officials say evolving technologies aimed at protecting privacy have simultaneously weakened their ability to collect evidence in criminal investigations.

“Technology has allowed us to create zones of complete privacy, which sounds like a really awesome thing – unless you think about it,” Comey said.

Two weeks ago, a federal magistrate judge in California directed Apple to help the FBI break into a locked iPhone used by one of the shooters responsible for the attack in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people.

Apple is refusing the FBI’s demands with counter arguments (Lauren Hurley/PA)

That case involved an iPhone 5C owned by San Bernardino County and used by Syed Farook, who was a health inspector there. He and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, later died in a gun battle with police.

On Monday, a federal judge in Brooklyn said the Obama administration couldn’t force Apple to help it gain access to the phone.

Judge James Orenstein said Justice Department attorneys were relying on the centuries-old All Writs Act “to produce impermissible absurd results”.


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